5.0 out of 5 stars Mother Hunt
When an author has been writing a series through 29 volumes, there is always the possibility of the stories taking on a 'cookie cutter' similarity. To some degree, this is unavoidable, since a series requires a certain predictability in its characters and type of plot. Robert Parker's Spenser novels are no exception to this rule, but Parker is one of those writers who...
Published on June 15 2003 by Marc Ruby™
3.0 out of 5 stars Parker's Back
Parker has really made an effort here, and it shows. Recent books were getting thinner and more off-hand, and the last in the Spenser series, "Widow's Walk" read like Parker wrote it while he was watching a ball game. But in "Back Story," Parker has done it for us again. It's not the "Godwulf Manuscript" and it's certainly not "Looking...
Published on May 7 2004
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4.0 out of 5 stars Parker improves with age,
This review is from: Back Story (Mass Market Paperback)
At this point it's kind of academic, telling people that Spenser novels are fun to read. They're so easy to follow, quick to digest, and fun to enjoy, that it's almost a shame when the book proves to only be 280 pages or so long. The dialog's snappy, the characters interesting, and of course the plot winds up being almost irrelevant, just a vehicle for Spenser, Hawk, Vinnie, Capt. Quirk, and the gang to sit and talk for a while, and then shoot some bad guys.
This time around, Paul Giacomin (Spenser's adoptive son, first seen in one of the best Spenser novels, Early Autumn) brings Spenser a client, a young actress he knows whose mother was murdered in a bank robbery almost thirty years ago. She wants Spenser to find who shot her mother, and, Spenser being Spenser, when it turns out that she brought half a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts for him, he impulsively takes the case. I guess Spenser hasn't been caught up in the low-carb diet craze.
Instead, he soon finds himself mired in a decades-old murder case where all of the principles seem to have been Simbionese-Liberation-Army-type lunatics who waved guns around and shot people randomly, and just caught this young woman in the crossfire. Things are not what they seem, however, and everyone from the FBI to the CIA to the local mafia gets involved, trying to tell Spenser to leave the case alone and find something else to do. This, of course, only provokes Spenser, and makes him more curious about what's happening.
I enjoy Parker's writing immensely, and as I said, the plot's secondary to the characters, the dialog, and the writing. Parker by now has become the closest we're going to have (I think) to Raymond Chandler, and he's a great deal more prolific, thankfully. This was a reasonable addition to what's just about the longest-running series in American detective fiction, and what's certainly the most popular.
3.0 out of 5 stars Parker's Back,
By A Customer
This review is from: Back Story (Mass Market Paperback)
Parker has really made an effort here, and it shows. Recent books were getting thinner and more off-hand, and the last in the Spenser series, "Widow's Walk" read like Parker wrote it while he was watching a ball game. But in "Back Story," Parker has done it for us again. It's not the "Godwulf Manuscript" and it's certainly not "Looking for Rachel Wallace," but it has depth and heft, and a fresh plot that involves us in some very satisfying intricacy as it works itself out. Spenser shows more of himself, and our understanding of him deepens. Here it isn't an appealing client needing real help that is the reason he keeps going; it is his own choice to finish what he started, even at considerable cost. He is "peerless," as Susan Silverman says, a man of integrity, humanity and power, whose choices, like this one, come always from a place of honor. And he still is as funny as he always was, with the same discerning eye, seeing everyone, from aging hippies to aging mobsters, right through any pretension or fascade, seeing the good in the bad guys and the bad in the good guys, seeing things as they are.
There are signs here that Parker is making some acknowledgement to the fact that if Spenser fought in Korea, he can't really be 42 years old anymore. Now he does weightlifting for repetition, rather than for weight, he does measured runs, with walk breaks, on Harvard's track, rather than pounding for miles along the Charles River. He decides to have one English muffin because the second one he wants isn't good for him. The women he says look pretty good are in their fifties, and both he and Hawk say sadly "Too young" when teenagers walk by in bikinis. But may I suggest here that a "willing suspension of disbelief" is more than appropriate. We may all be aging, but Spenser doesn't really have to, unless we insist on it. Rex Stout's Archie Goodwin would have been in a wheelchair in real time during many of his most useful flirtations. Nero Wolfe himself would have been about 112 years old when he solved his last cases. Sherlock Holmes could not actually have dealt both with Victorian hounds and the Norden Bombsite in the same adult lifetime. I think that, along with Parker, we should make no more than a gentle reference to Spenser's age, and then leave it alone. If we lean on it too much, Spenser may retire, and I, for one, am not ready.
In "Back Story" Parker brings down barriers between story lines, and even across series. It is very appealing to have two heavy-weight thugs who tried to kill Spenser in "Pastime" sitting on the steps of Susan's classy house to guard her. And Parker has Spenser work with Jesse Stone in this one, so we get to see Jesse through Spenser's eyes. I'd very much like to know how Spenser looks to Jesse. And, hey, Sunny works in Boston. There are all sorts of possibilities.
3.0 out of 5 stars Got Two Hours to Kill?,
I don't know what compels me to keep reading Robert B. Parker's "Spenser" series. The plotting has become almost nonexistent, the dialog is recycled from book to book, the books are getting shorter and shorter and Parker mainly seems to amuse himself by seeing how many characters from previous books he can pack into the current one, so it obviously isn't for the fresh, original take on the private eye genre.
But it's still fun, dammit. Somehow, Parker always manages to engage my attention. The interaction between Hawk and Spenser still amuses, Spenser's twisted honor code still thrills and Susan's soppy shrinkiness still annoys.
In this outing, we are on the hunt for the perpetrator of a killing 30 years in the past. The actual plot is incidental, as Parker seems to be making things up as he goes. The characters are, as usualy, thinly written and heavily dependent on stereotypes. But Spenser gamely travels from Boston to New Hampshire to California and back, giving us all our two hour's worth of lively description and jaunty heroism.
If you are already a fan of the series, you've already bought this one and don't need my review. But if you are not already a fan, don't start here. Go back to the fabulous days of Ceremony, A Catskill Eagle, The Judas Goat and you will become a fan, ready to read and grouse over each new entry in the Parker oeuvre.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Formidable Duo,
Sometimes it's lucky to be a "Johnny-Come-Lately." My reason for saying this is that I am not encumbered by the history of something like 30 previous Spenser novels. I have read 3 of them, just enough to become familiar with Spenser, Hawk, and Susan, but not so many that they have become stale characters, or that Parker's plots have become repetitive.
Any number of previous reviews have discussed the plot in great detail. In order not to be repetitious, my review will just discuss the plot in barest outline form and then will talk about the main protagonists, their interactions and characteristics.
The plot: Spenser takes on a case for a young actress who wants to find out who killed her mother in a bank hold-up some 28 years earlier. In spite of a cold trail, missing documents,and threats on his life, Spenser, with the physical support of his friend, Hawk, and the emotional and analytical support of his lover, Susan, soon finds out enough to make his investigation dangerous to both the FBI, and the most powerful mob figure in Boston, thus making it dangerous to Spenser. It also turns out that what he is uncovering is NOT what his client wants to hear. For the final outcome of this case, I guess that you'll just have to read the book.
Now for the promised character studies: Spenser and his ally, Hawk, form quite a duo. They are both in superb physical condition and can handle anyone who tries to intimidate them. Spenser, alone can handle (read manhandle) at least two or three assailants by himself. So, for that matter, can Hawk.
Together they can out think, out strategize, and out shoot just about anyone. In at least one case, where Spenser is caught off guard, he also proves that he can outrun just about anyone before turning the tables on them.
Hawk and Spenser are not just dumb mugs, between them they can quote from Shakespeare, are students of ancient and modern history, and have a philosophical bent.
Susan provides a softer side, but only when softness is appropriate. She is supportive even when Spenser and Hawk need to kill, as long as the killing is necessary to save their own lives.
To give Spenser and Hawk credit, they'd rather work out an amicable settlement than to resort to violence, if, of course, their adversaries are amenable to a peaceful settlement.
If you like your Private Investigators to be men of terse dialog (a la Hemingway), with a touch of introspection thrown in, I think that you'll really enjoy this novel.
4.0 out of 5 stars Better Than Usual,
When one picks up a Spenser novel one used to expect clever dialogue, likeable characters and a good story line. A few years ago, I thought the series got stale and stopped reading them. This book was a pleasnat surprise because it was as sharp and fresh as the early Parker/Spenser mysteries. The characters have again begun to evolve and have some depth. Back Story has a better than usual plot which brings it to the four star level.
Spenser is asked to solve a 28 year old murder and bank heist(for the fee of 6 Krispy Kreme donuts). Hawk is in on the action early and Susan is always there as well - as well as a new Pearl. Spenser has to go back to the hippy/radical world of the early seventies and the question and investigate the players who have now grown to middle age. The plot has some clever twists and interesting characters woven in to give it depth. The mobsters are in on action to add the requisite danger and intrigue.
I recommend this to any Spenser fan as the best in the series in a while. It was good to enjoy these characters once again after a hiatus. I recommend it to any mystery fan who enjoys witty dialogue and excellent repartee among characters.
4.0 out of 5 stars Parker prevails!,
Back Story is the 30th novel in the Spenser series. The popularity of this series is a testimony to Parker's ability to weave a compelling story, tell it in a clean and direct way, and sustain the same personalities for a generation.
Spenser is still strong. Hawk, his sidekick, is still stronger. They both are fierce protectors of Susan, a lovely psychologist and Spenser's longtime love interest. All three characters are gradually aging but with a continuing commitment to a life worth living.
Spenser, a Boston private eye, retains his gift for finding a case that brings him into a threatening relationship with a mobster, who is willing to use hired guns to kill him. When Spenser doesn't back down, Susan's life is threatened. Enter Hawk, whose loyalty to Spenser and Susan is matched only by his deadliness toward anyone who threatens them.
If you already love Parker's works, you'll want to purchase Back Story automatically without reading any other reviews. If you have never sampled Parker before, this is an excellent place to begin.
3.0 out of 5 stars Mistaken Identity,
The cold case is a homicide in a bank robbery dating from 1974. Spenser gets to see the police file. He interviews the retired police officer who headed the investigation. There is a missing FBI report in the file but the officer doesn't know anyting about it it is claimed. In the course of running down leads, Spenser encounters a situation where a group of men wants to kill him. Spenser tells Susan who in turn tells Hawk. Hawk says they have to go to the mattresses. It isn't clear where the threat is coming from. Hawk and Spenser wonder how the mob could possibly be connected. It is strange that anyone would need to cover-up a twenty-eight year old murder. The two men decide to leave Boston and go to San Diego. The investigation starts to veer into the daughter of a mobster who was a class mate of the murdered woman. Interestingly, and this is the the 1960's, the daughter of the mobster was into causes of every kind. Eventually the client does not want to know anything additional about the case after things have taken a rather sordid turn. Nevertheless, Spenser and Hawk do manage to sift down and shoot down the truth. The books is of interest mainly as a demonstration of how an investigation might proceed with so few leads. When the two men travel to the West Coast they are, in a manner of speaking, on a fishing expedition.
4.0 out of 5 stars Your basic Spenser novel and another quest for the truth,
When I picked up "Back Story," the 2003 Spenser novel from Robert B. Parker of course the first thing that came to my mind was to wonder how Pearl was doing. By page 2 we know the answer to that lingering question at which point we are distracted by the story of Daryl Gordon, the young woman that Paul Giacomin has brought to see Spenser (she stars in his play). In 1974 a revolutionary group calling itself the Dread Scott Brigade staged a robbery at the Shawmut Bank in Boston's Audubon Circle. During that robbery a woman named Emily Gordon, there to cash a traveler's check, was shot and killed. Daryl is Emily's daughter and wants the person who killed her mother to be brought to justice. Since Paul brought a half-dozen Krispy Kremes along with Daryl, our hero is willing to see what he can find out even thought the murder happened, as we are repeatedly told, twenty-eight years ago. There are a lot of things that Spenser does not do, and round up numbers is one of them. Ironically, of course, this is the 30th Spenser novel.
"Back Story" certainly represents all aspects of the Spenser formula. There is the tried and true practice of asking questions to see what shakes loose, death threats that require Susan to be protected and gunmen to avoid, and all those witty and philosophical discussions between Spenser and Hawk (as well as Vinnie, Quirk, Jesse Stone, and whoever else shows up along the way). However, Spenser really does not cook as much as he did in the early days. Spenser finds out more than Daryl ever wanted to know, which makes it doubtful that she will be joining the ranks of our hero's expanding "family," and once again puts our hero in the position of being judge, jury, and lord high executioner as he tries to make the world right.
The results are enjoyable as always and Parker's novels are perfect for people who like to get a quick chapter in here and there throughout the day, but there is a sense in which Spenser is just going through his standard bag of tricks. I swear, if somebody came in and threw down a copy of the Warren Commission Report our hero would ask a few questions and somebody who come out of the woodwork to tell him to leave that JFK thing along and he would end up solving that one too. However, the ending does find our hero taking a position that might be somewhat contrary to his nature and even if we have read literally hundreds of witty exchanges between Spenser and the people he encounters they are still appealing (especially the ones with his second bananas).
3.0 out of 5 stars A formula, though a good one,
I have read three or four of Robert Parker's Spenser novels, mostly the audio book versions. There is something about the writing style that lends itself especially well to the audio format; I suppose it's the terse dialogue and fast pace. In any event, Back Story is the first Spenser novel I've read in print, and I must say I enjoyed it less than the others. If I counted right, Back Story is the thirtieth Spenser novel. With such a prolific series, a certain amount of repetition and predictability is inevitable, but this book seemed a little bit too by-the numbers, so much like previous entries with only the specifics updated for the new story. Still, Spenser is an entertaining character. He is able to make witty observations in even the most hazardous of circumstances. The usual supporting characters are in this novel as well -the sinister Hawk, Spenser's girlfriend Susan and expert marksman Vinnie. Back Story has all the elements readers have come to expect from a Parker novel, so maybe that should be enough. The basic mood is always light, no matter how much violence is going on. In this novel, Spenser is persuaded by his stepson Paul and Paul's friend Daryl to investigate the thirty year old murder of Daryl's mother. She was apparently killed by a revolutionary group calling itself the Dread Scott Brigade. Spenser soon finds that both local gangsters and law enforcement officials are trying to prevent him from looking into this killing. Some of Parker's cultural biases come out in this novel. He seems to categorize anyone affiliated with the 1960s counterculture as a violent revolutionary or a pot-smoking vegetable. The latter is a bit amusing when you consider that Spenser's diet seems to consist mainly of doughnuts, coffee and hard liquor. The bad guys of Back Story are of the basic suspense novel/B-movie variety -mafioso and their dumb but menacing bodyguards; wisecracking drug dealers and the mandatory psychopath whose mission is to kill Spenser. Robert Parker is a talented enough novelist that he can, at this point, get away with coasting on a winning formula and that is what he's done in Back Story. It's a fast-paced, often humorous, sometimes suspenseful but unmemorable entry in this time-honored series.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Reunion With Old Friends,
For those of you who are already fans of Parker's witty, aging detective, Spenser, this is another classic tale. Spenser's assignment, the murder of a woman twenty-eight years ago, lacks freshness. But, the chance to meet up again with some of the classic characters - Spenser, Susan, Hawk, Quirk, Vinnie - is well worth the read. They are as charming and multi-faceted as ever. Their faults are human and their loyalties unshakeable.
For those who are new to the Spenser series, this novel may appear lacking. It requires at least some familiarity with the characters to really understand what's going on. Otherwise, things like Spenser's agreeing to take on a dangerous case and risk his own life for six Krispy Kreme donuts may seem implausible. However, Spenser and his contacts are worth getting to know. I would recommend to anyone new to the series go back and read some of the old Spenser novels. They are still fun reads today - fast paced, introspective, witty and delightful.
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Back Story by Robert B. Parker (Audio CD - March 18 2003)
Used & New from: CDN$ 27.79