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on June 15, 2003
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 can usually find a new twist, even in an old pattern. 'Back Story' is a grand example of Parker's story telling skills, still fresh after all these years.
The daughter of the victim, Daryl Gordon, draws Spenser into a thirty-year-old murder, a friend of Spenser's 'nearly' adopted son, Paul Giacomin. The killing occurred in the middle of a bank robbery, committed by the Dread Scott Brigade, a 70's revolutionary group. There were no witnesses, and no one was ever caught. For Paul's sake, Spenser reopens the case and discovers a web of subterfuge surrounding the investigation. FBI reports have been squelched, all the characters seem to have unexpected links to each other, and finally, Spenser's own life is threatened.
Into this chaos steps Hawk, Spencer's long time friend and co-perpetrator. These two are on of mysteries original black/white partnerships, and one of the hallmarks of Parker's style is the politically incorrect, whiplash banter that takes place between the two. The make fun of their own stereotypes (and ours) while scaring there suspects witless.
Spencer's other partner is his very significant other, Susan, who does not participate in the investigations but is often all that keeps Spenser on this side of sanity. She adds wit, insight and an unselfconscious sexuality to what otherwise might be a grim story of tawdry revenge.
The story, while not particularly complex, takes some surprising twists. There is a high violence content, not unusual for Spencer and Hawk, but Parker always manages to use violence without making it into an end in itself. What is unusual this time is Spencer's own introspection at the brutal aspect of his nature. Feeling his own maturity, he begins to wonder what he is really looking for. Susan, the psychologist, has answers, and the pair seem to grow before the reader's eyes.
Thoroughly modern, 'Back Story' reads like vintage Parker - a swiftly moving plot, snappy dialogue, and respectable characters. Even if you have skipped the last few, I think you will find this one worth reading. Newcomers need have no fear. The relationship between the characters becomes clear quickly, and the story does not depend on any of the 29 previous novels.
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on April 6, 2003
What is the going rate to investigate a twenty-eight year old murder? If you're Spenser, and the request comes from surrogate son, Paul Giacomin, the price is a hefty six Krispy Kreme doughnuts, paid up front. Paul's friend, Daryl Gordon, is looking for answers. Back in 1974, her mother, Emily, was shot and killed during a bank robbery right here in Boston. A hippie revolutionary group, The Dread Scott Brigade, claimed responsibility, and then, along with the stolen money, disappeared. There seemed to be few clues and leads to this robbery/murder, and the unsolved case has been cold and pretty much forgotten, all these years, until Spenser decides to take a look and stir things up. Now as two unlikely partners, the mob and the FBI, threaten Spenser to lay off and let this old crime remain unsolved, it's just the push he needs to dig deeper and see the case to its bitter end..... After a couple of rather disappointing, lackluster Spenser novels, Robert Parker is back in rare form, and Spenser's thirtieth outing is as intriguing and entertaining as his first. Mr Parker's well-paced story line is tense and compelling, filled with non-stop action, vivid, riveting scenes and brilliant characterizations. But as always, it's his spare, crisp prose and droll, witty dialogue that is the strength of this novel, and no one does it better than the P.I. Grand Master of them all. For those new to Robert Parker and Spenser, start with some of his earlier mysteries to get a real feel for the series and its characters. For those who are already fans, kick back, visit with old friends, and enjoy. Back Story is a strong addition no mystery lover should miss.
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on March 26, 2003
Boston private investigator Spenser isn't an easy touch, but Paul Giacomin is like a son to him so he is willing to go the extra mile to do the man a favor. Paul, a playwright, wants Spenser to help his friend actress Daryl Silver who is starring in his play, to find out who killed her mother Emily in a Boston bank robbery in 1974. Daryl wants closure and Paul pays Spenser's fee, a box of Krispy Crème donuts.
The Dread Scott Brigade took credit for the killing and the robbery but nobody was ever caught even thought the bank cameras caught their picture. Spenser gets the police file from the Boston Police Department and notices right away that the FBI intelligence report is missing. A little deeper into the investigation Spenser is warned of the case by government agents and is on the hit list of a crime kingpin. Even though it has become very dangerous, Spenser is determined to find out who killed Daryl's mother, if only to satisfy his curiosity.
It has been thirty years since the first Spenser book THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT was published and the series is still fresh, innovative and very entertaining. The hero might be a little older but he still has the same quirky sense of humor and the ability not to flinch when bullets are coming in his direction. BACK STORY is a fascinating who-done-it that is both believable and somewhat nostalgic. Robert B. Parker shows why his hero has become an American icon.
Harriet Klausner
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on March 26, 2003
There is one trait about mystery series, which might not hold water for all readers, that I find interesting. As a series moves over the years, the interest moves from the case work to the personality of the detectives. When I first read Spenser I read the books for the puzzles and the action sequences. Now, I read them because of the characters--who feel like old friends--and what is happening. Each book of the series, in brief, becomes like a letter from an old friend.
"Back Story" is such a book. The actions of Spenser, Hawk, and Susan are so well known to followers of the series that we are not surprised by Spenser's price for solving the mystery, the bond between Hawk and Spenser which allows them to move from Standard English to a form of Black English and the reactions of Spenser to attempts at pulling him off the case. It is a salute to Parker's ability as a writer that he keeps these characters and their actions fresh.
There is also a reality about the death of Pearl the Wonder Dog and the pain which comes from such a loss. Pearl was a highpoint of the series because a reader (at least this one!)could see himself watching his dog all the time, noting her reactions, and having the feel of a proud owner/friend.
Pearl was always in the background and she would be missed and griefed over. We also lost a dog and the feelings are real. The buying of a new dog to take the mantle of the older dog was something I have done--a nice touch of realism.
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on March 24, 2003
BACK STORY puts us back in the familiar groove that I believe Parker slipped out of with the inferior WIDOW'S WALK and POTSHOT. The story is original, the wisecracks are genuinely funny and not tiresomely "cute," the characters are true-to-form without being predictable. In short, I loved it!
The characters have taken on lives of their own, and their interplay adds texture to the story. I loved Spenser's discomfort with Darryl's cautious reaction to Pearl. And I especially enjoyed Hawk's observation about Susan/Spenser conversation: he points out that first one of them says something cryptic, then the other one simply agrees. So true!
Spenser gets very introspective about his chosen line of work. I wonder if that, combined with the introduction of Jesse Stone, means that Spenser might be preparing us for his retirement. And maybe it's time. While I admit I loved this book, I can't shake the knowledge that these characters are getting long in the tooth chronologically. Spenser served in Korea and quit smoking 40 years ago. That would put him in his 60s. Since he boxed professionally alongside Hawk, Hawk must be in that same range, yet women of all ages keep throwing themselves at him. And Susan, so beautiful and firm of flesh, can't be much behind them. Is the Charles River really the fountain of youth? Sorry, but credibility is strained. (A small criticism of an otherwise great read.)
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on March 16, 2003
As a reader who was introduced to Robert Parker and his Spenser detective novels by watching Robert Urich in the television series, I was saddened by Urich's death last year since in a way a part of the Spenser mystique for me had died with him. Thus, I was delighted that Spenser reappeared in BACK STORY, which as the thirtieth book in the series seems to have refined the characters to their essence. And we also have Jesse Stone, the chief of the Paradise police department and the main character of three Parker novels, become periperally in this Spenser case as Parker devotees probably guessed was inevitable. (Will Sunny Randall be next?)
Paul Giacomin, a character in previous Spenser novels (and a surrogate son for Spenser) and now a successful playwright, visits Spenser with Daryl Silver, an actress and friend. While visiting Daryl's aunt in Boston twenty-eighty years ago (when Daryl was six years old), Daryl's mother Emily Gordon was murdered during a bank robbery by the Dread Scott brigade, an unknown revolutionary black power group reminiscent of the Black Panthers. The murder was never solved and the group members were never identified, and Daryl hopes Spenser will investigate the case so she can finally have closure. The police had hit a dead end, but of course Quirk still remembers it and would love to close an old case but isn't particularly hopeful regarding Spenser's chances of so doing. Things look even bleaker when it becomes apparent that all copies of the FBI file regarding the case have mysteriously disappeared.
As Spenser follows up on old leads, he is soon threatened (first verbally and then shot at my a group of hit men). Of course, the danger that first he and then Susan Silverman face mean that Hawk is an almost continual presence in this story, much to the delight of all true Spenser fans. The story includes almost all the usual cast of characters that have made this series so successful (in addition to Quirk, Hawk, and Susan - Vinnie Morris, Tay Bop and Frank Belson all have bit parts). We are introduced to Nathan Epstein, who is delightful in his essential role as Spenser's FBI liasion. The bad guys include both the mob and other assorted characters from Daryl's childhood years. None of them are likely to appear in future stories, especially since more than the usual quota meet their demise at the hands of Spenser and Hawk.
As Spenser gradually uncovers the truth and learns that it is not exactly as Daryl described, she becomes so emtionally distraught that she asks him to quit the case. However, since he had agreed to take the case as a favor to Paul and his only fee had been a box of Krispy Kreme donuts, he declines to end the investigation. Partially because he believes since he now has reopened the case that he and Susan will continue to be in danger unless it is solved, but also because as Susan observes using her fine psychoanalytical skills and thorough knowledge of Spenser's character (and reinforced by some wonderfully rich imagery from Hawk), he "can't quit early... [he] has to know how it will turn out".
This book does not present an especially difficult mystery for the reader to solve, as several of the elements of the solution are in fact telegraphed relatively early in the story. However, there are enough details which involve the usual misdirection to keep the interest of the reader. And some of the characters, such as the aging hippie who is Daryl's father and the associated imagery are wonderful. It also has some of best dialog and psychological interplay between Spenser, Susan, and Hawk in any of the stories in the series. Over the years, their characters have grown comfortable with each other, in fact they have become among the most enjoyable characters in this genre. Both the male/female and black/white interplay is done in a meaningful and enjoyable manner. So, if you are a new Robert Parker reader, don't hesitate to start with this book although you will probably not enjoy it as much as those readers with an extensive background in the series. And if you are already a fan, this is another excellent addition to the series, despite the death of another old friend besides Robert Urich.
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on January 11, 2004
Robert Parker continues to keep Spenser fresh, energetic and fun to read.
Thirtysome novels into the series, "Back Story" finds Spenser and Hawk looking into a twenty-eight year old murder for a friend of a friend---the victim's daughter.
As they attempt to connect whatever dots they can assemble, the first missing link is the FBI report on the case. Next thing you know, "government men" try to persuade Spenser to take a powder. Hmmm???
Shortly thereafter some not-so-friendly mobster types pass a similar message Spenser's way.
These "suggestions" merely strengthen Spenser's resolve and makes him dig deeper. Current members of the Boston PD and the FBI's Boston office are more than interested and do not inhibit the intrepid Spenser.
The usual crisp repartee between Spenser and Hawk, lively dialogue, a colorful supporting cast and a cameo appearance by Jesse Stone highlight the story.
Another highly entertaining, most enjoyable weekend diversion.
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on August 16, 2003
"Back Story" is the 30th Spenser novel by Robert B. Parker. Daryl Gordon, a friend of Spenser's "surrogate son" Paul Giacomin, asks Spenser to investigate the murder of her mother Emily Gordon in 1974. A radical group calling itself the Dread Scott Brigade claimed responsibility but it seems that no one saw who shot her. As Spenser investigates it becomes apparent that some people will stop at nothing to keep him from uncovering the truth. Sonny Karnofsky, an aging crime boss, puts out a hit on Spenser. Susan and Hawk play important roles, and Susan and Spenser get a new pet. "Back Story" is an excellent addition to this long-running series and is highly recommended.
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on November 23, 2003
When a book makes me laugh loudly to the point that I can't control is definitely worth a look! Parker gives his characters such snappy comebacks and hilarious lines that you end up racing for a pad and pen so you can remember to use them on pals at a later time! (shhhhhhhh!;) LOL)
Parker has a wonderful sense of timing both in his comedy and his pacing of the story as it opens before the reader. I was simply unable to put this one down until I had finished it.
I give this book 5 badges!
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on March 29, 2003
Spenser, Susan, and Hawk continue to provide the reader with suspense, laughter, love, and loyalty; all this without an excessive amount of profanity......Spenser is still sleuthing with the assistance of his long time friend and assistant, Hawk. Susan proves that beauty and appeal do not diminish as a lady gets a bit mature, at least if her man is Spenser....and "Pearl" is an added bonus....Robert Parker continues to entertain with his forever young and energetic "Spenser"...
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