Back Story Hardcover – Mar 11 2003
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In this 30th entry in one of mystery fiction's longest-running and best-loved series, Spenser--the tough yet sensitive Boston private eye with no first name--takes on an unsolved murder nearly three decades old. The client, an actress, is a friend of Paul Giacomin, Spenser's surrogate son (who first appeared in 1981's Early Autumn). Her mother was slain by leftist radicals at a bank holdup in 1974, and now she wants to know who fired the shot. As Spenser digs into the past, he soon learns that powerful people on both sides of the law want the case left alone--badly enough to kill.
These death threats provide a fine excuse for Hawk, Spenser's extremely scary (yet sensitive) bad-guy pal, to tag along in nearly every scene as bodyguard. The interaction of the two friends is one of this series's familiar pleasures, as is the presence of Susan Silverman, Spenser's longtime love interest. Another pleasure is Parker's stripped-down prose, a marvel of craftsmanship as smooth as 18-year-old Scotch. (Plus we get the first meeting between Spenser and Jesse Stone, hero of another Parker series.) Alas, the whole enterprise feels a little tired. The plot never generates much sustained suspense, and the author's adoration for his central characters renders them at times almost cartoonesque. Still, Back Story is excellently prepared comfort food, even if it isn't five-star cuisine. --Nicholas H. Allison
From Publishers Weekly
Spenser's respectable 30th outing (he debuted 30 years ago in The Godwulf Manuscript) finds the veteran Boston PI teaming briefly with Jesse Stone, the cop hero of a newer Parker series (Death in Paradise, etc.). The move works because Parker plays it low-key, presenting Stone as just one of many characters who cross Spenser's path as the PI-hired by a friend of his adoptive son, Paul, for the princely sum of six Krispy Kremes-digs into the 28-year-old murder of a woman during a bank robbery; the friend is the slain woman's daughter and wants closure. Before Spenser bumps into Stone, the top cop in Paradise, Mass., he connects the killing to the daughter of big time Boston mobster Sonny Karnofsky, an old foe. When Spenser won't back off, Karnofsky threatens Spenser's girlfriend, Susan, then orders a hit on the PI. Enter as protection longtime sidekick Hawk; other series vets make appearances too on Spenser's behalf, including cops Belsen and Quirk and shooter Vinnie Morris. An interesting new character, a Jewish FBI agent, also helps out. The repartee between Spenser and Hawk is fast and funny; the sentiment between Spenser and Susan and the musings about Spenser's code are only occasionally cloying; and there's a scattering of remarkable action scenes including a tense shootout in Harvard Stadium. Series fans will enjoy this mix of old and new, but the title kind of says it all: this series, probably the finest and most influential PI series since Chandler, could use some forward momentum.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Each time I finish a Spenser novel, I feel I have had enough, perhaps for a long time. But then a few weeks later I am hungry for one again. Read morePublished on May 17 2014 by Toby
You know a series is in a rut when the author can't even introduce a new dog into the mix! The trio of Spenser, Hawk and Susan is so overly familar at this point that a different... Read morePublished on July 9 2004 by Dangle's girl
Remember, summertime is coming and this is a good pool or beach book in the classic Robert Parker style. Easy to pick up and put down - it is a relaxing, non-stressful read.Published on April 12 2004
This was the first Parker book I ever read. I picked it up in an airport out of desperation when I had nothing left to read. Read morePublished on March 10 2004 by Bob Neubauer
If I could have given this story zero stars I would have. The story wasn't interesting and the characters were flat. Read morePublished on March 9 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... Read more