Top critical review
on May 7, 2004
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.