- Mass Market Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Dell; Reissue edition (May 1 1987)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0440157587
- ISBN-13: 978-0440157588
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.3 x 17.5 cm
- Shipping Weight: 159 g
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #285,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Mortal Stakes Mass Market Paperback – May 1 1987
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About the Author
Robert B. Parker was the author of seventy books, including the legendary Spenser detective series, novels featuring Chief Jesse Stone, and the acclaimed Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch westerns, as well as the Sunny Randall novels. Winner of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award and long considered the undisputed dean of American crime fiction, Parker died in January 2010.
Top Customer Reviews
Even if you aren't a big fan of the series and are just looking for a read to get through a winter's day, this is a good choice. The mystery is a good one, with things of real value at stake (pardon the pun). Spenser takes us along every step of the way as he gets to the bottom of it, so the reader never feels cheated by the detective having information that we don't. (I must admit that perhaps the snow made me enjoy this book more than I ordinarily might have. Reading about Spenser watching baseball, eating hotdogs and peanuts and drinking beer in a great old ballpark is enough to make this girl downright misty-eyed as I dream of summers spent in my beloved Wrigley Field.)
To me, Parker seemed happy to be writing this book within this setting with mirrors reflecting mirrors of plays within plays that Spenser's opening interviews didn't feature suspects/clients offering delicatessen varieties of The Limburger Reek. The beauty of the baseball scene was captured perfectly, from the spectators in the stands, to the clean locker room banter, to the management organizational structure and press picture, to the sharks feeding among the sacred roots of the game. Even though I'm not into baseball, by page 4 Parker had me hooked into his ambiance. I felt the realism in the levels of the game, felt Spenser's joy (at the outset) to be doing this case.
It seemed to me as if, by this third Spenser novel, copyright 1975, Parker was feeling his oats as an author, had established his commercial appeal, and was really stepping out to write what and how he'd always wanted: Baseball, within the classic framework of detective fiction.
Loved the joked-up titles for his fictional book, off-colored ditties which lead to an appropriate one. I was curious what Spenser would come up with, contrasted to his hokey (as he meant them to be) jokes, and he dropped the head-liner at the precise time and place for effect.
It was nice, as a change of pace, to see Spenser as slightly less of a wise guy and more of a vulnerably happy man eating up the perks of his profession (though his artfully acerbic wit, which I relish, certainly wasn't lacking).
I'm happy to report that this third novel was written in the meaty narrative style of the prior two novels, rather than in the pared down dialogue dance of his later works, though I do not mean to disparage the honed beauty of his later work. Just wanted to enjoy his early, classic P.I. style (with its sensual gourmet touches), wanted to stretch out for a while prior to the sophisticated-dialogue-rap condensing narrative complexity into Parker's signature syntax dance.
As I read the early Spenser novels, I wondered how many Parker wrote with the setting and location detail riding equal to or above the dialogue and interview process. I've enjoyed the heck out of studying where/how his style evolved. Would like to also unearth the whys.
Sidney Sheldon's memoirs, THE OTHER SIDE OF ME does a great job of exposing how his expression was hammered by those jealous of ability expressed well, developed by ungodly hard work with good luck mixed into the bad, endured torture to arrive at a success few could comprehend, though his memoirs explain a lot.
Another amazing example of how life's events mold talent is Stephen King's ON WRITING.
I've wondered if the stalking incidents in HUSH MONEY and WALKING SHADOW were based on actual incidents in Parker's life. I've also wondered if his wife, Joan, is as feisty as Susan was in HUSH MONEY. In the real world, Joan probably wouldn't (for understandable reasons) act out the drama quite as Susan did. But, I'll bet RB and Joan enjoyed the heck out of Susan's scenes taking care of the "lady" stalker. Readers aren't the only ones who live vicariously in novels.
What's fiction for if not to write or read about what we'd love (and sometimes fear) to be able to do in life but, for various reasons of cowardliness, courage, or consequences, cannot.
I enjoyed reading about Parker (via Spenser) wallowing in his passion of Fenway Park baseball. And I appreciated Parker's inclusion of detail of Spenser's personal and professional daily routines. When an author writes when, how, and what his main character eats his daily bread, that author not only draws that character from its essence, the author draws the reader in from the seat of where we all live at base reality.
Spenser's daily routine actions spread like gourmet-peanut-butter and homemade jam over Parker's pages, following Spenser's exit from the ball park, through the following day. Those scenes were a premium use of narrative space lush with syntax ambiance, all of which effected a perfect set up for the riveting scene of mob-type intrusion into Parker's office by Frank Doerr and back up guy. This type of narrative contrast makes high art, the contrast between a heavy risk scene holding mortal stakes, coming on after the reader has gotten comfortable wallowing in a character's simple, daily human machinations, a character running through at home routines, meandering through at play situations involving his greatest passions (especially when the pleasurable addictions overlap his livelihood necessities).
After that stirring of contrasting scenes, the comfy/schmoozing Vs. the risky/riveting elements had welded into a novel I wasn't wanting to end.
(I wonder, how Parker felt chained to this venue for a lifetime. He did successfully manipulate it to express various angles of his literary creativity and ethics development process. Maybe he loved every day of his work as an author. Or did he sometimes want to pull his hair out, scream primal howls, to get out of the detective novel constraints? He did develop other series characters and accomplished those Spenser sidelines well.)
Who would have thought a reader like me, who has absolutely zilch natural interest in spectator sports, would have become cozily enchanted, actually entranced by a novel worked around and within baseball. To be able to accomplish this, heavy-duty talent is required to be firing on all cylinders.
This is what happens when work is play for an author. Yet reading the Frost poetry more closely, it says, "when work is play for mortal stakes." This play is serious. The work of an author, no matter how glamorous or how fun it may seem, is serious.
A few questions remain.
How would Brenda and Susan contrast, in fitting into baseball and the P.I.'s life, into the life which is played with mortal stakes? The sparing scenes with each of these female sidekicks were beautifully, sensitively, and thoughtfully drawn.
And what of the economic/cultural contrasts dramatized so crushingly clearly here, of lives varying from the clean health of Spenser's personal ablutions and ruminations, to the varieties of physical deterioration and downtrodden, deathly drudgery; from urban renewal edging against City Pimp-ery, to a Heartland Hero protecting the sad sanctuary of his people lost to an exhausting poverty of mud and swill?
Of course Parker dealt with those situations with his usual finesse, largesse, and an abundance of duress. Earthy wisdom was also applied with Biblical eyes and teeth, gusto and grace.
About the sophisticated symbolism of the setup location and situation:
What does contemplation of the scene's description bring to mind?
As did the caring, relishing (reader drool inducing) way Spenser took time to cook for himself, the setup setting symbolized what Spenser was defending in a battle no less than a full out war, which involved defending the continued existence of everything he held dear, including his life and the sacred people and parts in a way of life hard won in the US. The setting Spenser chose for his showdown scene also symbolized what sea creature was at the center of that life, ripping its flesh and eating the people and parts.
In MORTAL STAKES, Parker stepped into the storms of life as we're growing it. He stuck his thick neck out and really said something. Go beyond thought spaces between sentences. This work is such a cohesive whole the undercurrents might be best seen after the last page has been turned. Slowly.
Linda G. Shelnutt
Spenser's hired to find out if the Boston Red Sox' leading pitcher is on the take or not, gets involved with a few nice folks and quite a few who aren't as nice. The characters and their interplay with Spenser help make this a superior P. I. story. The pitcher and his wife, the madame of a New York bordello, a flashy pimp, a flamboyant sports announcer and his bubblegum chewing martial arts expert assistant, an on-the-edge mob boss and his hit man, a knowing and not altogether unsympathetic cop, Brenda from the first novel, and Susan from the second each provide good scenes moving the story along.
What lifts this novel above the average Spenser novel and the basic tough detective genre is Spenser's personal code, the set of principles that he lives by, and the struggle he faces when the only way to bring about a satisfactory resolution to the situation is to violate one of those principles.
This is, on one hand, a fast, enjoyable read and also, on the other hand, a satisfying look at what makes the main character tick.
Very highly recommended to casual P. I. readers as well as serious ones.
Next to Sandy Kofax, Marty Rabb is the best pitcher Spenser has ever seen. Rabb is with the Red Sox, and someone in the organization hires Spenser to find out if there is any truth in the hint of a whisper that he is throwing games or allowing hits.
There are lots of laughs in this story, especially in the first half. Spenser is also quite introspective. He sleeps with Brenda Loring twice, and, while that disturbed me, I liked what he thought when he first kissed her: "There is excitement in a new kiss, but there is a quality of memory and intimacy in kissing someone you've kissed often before. I liked the quality. Maybe continuity is better than change."
Brenda is not dating Spenser exclusively, and there is no mention whether Susan is. At one point, Spenser needs to talk about something, and he realizes that Brenda is only for fun times and that he can discuss serious issues with Susan. This story presages the commitment to each other made by Susan and Spenser in _Promised Land_.