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on August 7, 2003
This is one of my favorite Spenser tales. And we love him because . . . . I guess it's kind of that John Wayne feeling, you like to have a big guy around who can always be relied upon to take care of business. Here, he almost fails, and that's the magnetism of Small Vices.
Spenser is hired by the now successful, leggy Rita Fiore. There is the usual overt flirting ". . . too bad you didn't . . ." and "Boy, if you only had . . ." and "you had your chance . . " that we've come to chuckle at and with the honorable sleuth.
Here he's asked to track down 'the real murderer' which will free a man wrongfully doing life in the hard place.
It's hard to pity the imprisoned man Spenser is asked to free. It seems most feel he doesn't really deserve to be freed . . . even the loyal friend Hawk feels that Alves belongs in jail, "either for this crime or one he got away with."
But Spenser, who again tells someone his first name but not us, gets too close and takes three slugs to the shoulder, leg and chest.
It takes Susan, Hawk, Quirk, Belson, Lee Farrel and Vinnie nearly a year to rehab Spenser, who loses 40 pounds in the process, has a hard time making his limbs do what he wants them to, and basically can't walk. But they do and honor and heroism prevail, villains are suitably thrashed, and Susan and Spenser hook up. Again. And again.
There's a lot of vulnerability in Spenser this time. Like Joe Pike in The Last Detective, his body has betrayed him and he is lost. Sadness, even tears. The pages describing Spenser trying to get up the hill in Santa Barbara after again learning how to walk again are riveting. Good stuff.
If I had a disappointment, it was Spenser's laissez faire attitude towards Hawk who took a year off to mentor/train/help him. But maybe that's part of the mystique, he knew how he felt and so did Hawk.
Great stuff. Rachel Wallace is still #1 for me but Small Vices is a close second.
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on September 20, 2001
�Small Vices� is the second Parker I�ve read, and it does not disappoint (the first being �Playmates�). I just wish I had discovered Parker a long time ago. Parker writes a tight prose reminiscent of Sue Grafton, but in the male voice. The main character, Spenser, is charming, tough and a little deviant. He is a PI who is not scared to use his fists when he has to and his brain when it becomes more appropriate.
In �Small Vices�, Spenser has to uncover the truth about Alves, a young colored man who has been accused and sentenced for the rape and murder of a white coed, Melissa Henderson. What follows is a tale of treachery, deceit, lies, police corruption, contract killing and violence. When Spenser is shot trying to uncover the truth, he hangs on to his life by a thread.
Parker has done another magnificent job at blending humor, suspense and believable settings. We are taken from Boston to New York, and even on a trip to Santa Barbara in Southern California. The sub-plot with Spenser�s wife Susan and dog Pearl blends in nicely with the suspense and does not slow down the pace of the story. If you�ve never read a Parker, you can�t go wrong with this one. But then I�ve got another sixteen of his to read, so I�ll let you know as I proceed.
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on December 15, 2000
Throughout the Spenser series, Robert B. Parker has consistently shown himself to be an excellent writer. Often, however, the quality of the story isn't up to the same standards. In Small Vices, however, it is.
This is, I dare say, the best Spenser novel to date. Chance, Parker's previous contribution to the series, was a disappointment. But like a weak jab setting up the knockout uppercut, Small Vices is top-notch. There's mystery here, highly compelling characters (including perhaps the most interesting Spenser adversary to date), social commentary, excellent dialogue, several strong social themes, and, most of all, page-turning suspense. And, unlike most suspense works, the finish wasn't a disappointment.
Parker's work is best read as part of the series. However, this still rates four stars as a stand-alone work. You lose out on a lot of the history behind some of the characters, but it's still basically whole.
Maybe Parker, like Spenser, finally got off the decaf. If so, I hope he stays off. Sometimes, a small vice can be a good thing.
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on April 30, 2000
Ah, good old Spenser. It seems like I read a couple of these mysteries a year, and every time I do, it's like putting on an old sweatshirt that brings back great memories. In fact, with every new book, it seems like Parker brings back characters from his previous books (like his pseudo-son Paul, the cop Quirk, etc.), giving the reader a real sense of community and continuity.
Like the other Spensers, Small Vices is a solid effort. The usual traits are there - glib, self-deprecating humor from Spenser, lovey-dovey dialogue between Spenser and Susan Silverman, and of course, Hawk. It's like visiting old friends - does it matter what the case is (career criminal wrongfully sentenced), where it takes place (somewhere near Boston), or what happens to Spenser (almost dies)? Not really. As long as the plot isn't stupid enough to distract us, we read these novels because Parker has created one heck of a genuine character (and supporting players equally as real).
Sidenote you won't understand until you read the book: Is it only me, or did the "Gray Man" pop Terence Stamp into your brain? If they ever make this into a movie, I'd vote for Stamp to play the cold-blood dude.
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on July 27, 1998
I have been a Spenser fan since my dad gave me the Godwulf manuscript to read. I have found myself rereading some of the old Spencer novels as the series started to sag, Spenser started his internal dialogue about donuts and Susan showed up in white cowboy boots. As I read the sagging Spensers I realized that some Spenser was better than none, but I remembered such classics as The Widening Gyre, Valediction, Early Autumn and A Catskill Eagle. In this novel, Spenser is back, and facing one of the more convincing villains in the series-The Gray Man. Spenser has a remarkable, tragic vision of himself walking across a deserted campus and this foreshadows troubling times. Although Spenser had become cliched, and worst of all, Hawk and his jive talk dated, Small Vices brings the Spenserian world of wit and moral wrangling into sharp focus. I highly recommend this installment of the Spenser series to newcomers and fans alike. As usual, the descriptions of new England are ri! pe and clear. It's uncanny, but the first time I travelled to Boston, I was surprised that the 15 or so Spenser books I had read had given me a unconscious mental map of Beacon Hill and Back bay!
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on November 22, 1997
- It wasn't until I started reading "Small Vices" that I realized how much I'd missed Robert Parker and his Spenser series. During an 18-month period about two years ago I read all of Parker's books. I haven't read any of his books since. And then recently I picked up this new book and, although I was having a bad day, I was soon smiling and laughing. Spenser was back and I was sure enjoying his company. I've tried before to determine exactly why I love this series so much, since the basic concept is so cliched: Spenser is a tough, strong private eye, but with a heart of gold, who usually gets the bad guy. He's very ethical and serious at times, like Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder character, but he is also quite funny at times, a la Donald Westlake. Mostly, though, he is witty, sharp and smart. I suspect that part of me thinks that I could be Spenser if I buffed up and learned how to throw a punch. The writing is always tight in his books. During one conversation, for example, Spenser tells the reader simply, "I had nothing to add to that," whereas other writers would elaborate on that thought. There is also a racial element to the series, with Spenser's buddy, Hawk, a black tough guy who acts dumber than he is and plays to the racial stereotype but is actually quite intelligent and uses people's expectation of him to his advantage. All of this results in great dialogue. At one point in this book, for example, Spenser is injured. "I don't need that much help," Spenser said. "He ain't heavy," Hawk said. "He's my brother." In this book, Spenser is hired by a law firm concerned that a black man convicted of murdering a white girl in an almost all-white college may actually be innocent of that crime. The suspect is guilty, though, of raping other women so few go out of their way to help Spenser unravel the truth. Spenser also encounters great deal of racism. Soon some tough guys tell Spenser to quit his investigation and throw him some muscle. He pretty much ignores the threats until he starts getting followed by a guy who prefers to let his bullets do the talking. And then things get really interesting. Meanwhile, Spenser's long-time girlfriend, Susan, wants to adopt a child but Spenser is against the idea but doesn't want to make her mad either. This is certainly not Parker's best book, but even a weak Parker book is better than much of the novels currently available. Part of the problem may be that Parker has been writing this series for too long, more than 20 years now, so it will be interesting to see how a new non-Spenser book he has out compares. And when I read that one, I'll tell you my conclusion.
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on October 25, 1997
After Chance and Thin Air left me disppointed, I was beginning to think the success of this series had gone to Parker's head and he'd stopped trying. I kept reading the last two offerings in the vain hope that a plot would emerge and that I would recongize some shred of the Spenser who hooked me on this series years ago. But after a string of books that seemed designed solely to put Spenser and Hawk into interesting locales and give them every opportunity to exchange witticisms, Small Vices is the real thing. Spenser has me hooked again. He's a little older and maybe a little wiser than the Spenser who first faced his own mortality in Valediction, but he hasn't lost that sense of honor and the need for justice that's always driven him. What he has finally shed is another layer of his stubborn autonomy, as his brush with death makes him dependent on his friends. Plenty of people care about this guy, with good reason... but for a few years there, I was starting to wonder why anyone stuck with him. Small Vices made me remember.
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on July 23, 1997
Robert Parker's Spenser novels are becoming
increasingly cartoonish in nature. The depth of
his first several Spenser novels has been replaced
by bigger type, thicker pages, and situations so
unbelievable they only need four colors and
a couple of BAMS and ZOWEEEs to enter the realm of
DC comics. Still, Spenser and Hawk remain an
engaging duo.

The problems here are many. The first is a case
that has a clear resolution almost from the
beginning. It's pretty clear whodunit and even who
is trying to cover it up. The characters are cardboard
cutouts, the Gray Man villain lives up to his name,
a bland faceless adversary who manages to clip
Spenser. (Why his always razor sharp sense of danger
is not working at the time he is shot never enters into
the story.) The moment that supposedly makes
Spenser question life the universe and everything
is treated with as much seriousness as an ingrown
toenail. Although he is supposedly near death, we
never doubt for a minute that he'll recover.

One last thing. Enough of Susan. The psycobabble
talks are less and less engaging, as are the
constant "She's the only woman for me asides."
Kill her off in the next book. Maybe Pearl the
Wonder Dog can attack her. I'm only hoping that
Parker can reduce his book a year clip and start
putting meat back into his story.
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on December 12, 1997
What a sleeper. Being a Spenser fan is a bit like being a fan of The Who - no matter how worn the product, I rush out and consume it. But tried and true fans will surely be disappointed, as you likely were with Chance and Thin Air. The brilliance of Catskill Eagle is long dead, though it showed briefly in Walking Shadow. There are many of us who think it's time for Susan to die. That might breath some life back into the series. And it's time for co-eds to stop hitting on Spenser every time he walks into a bar. Some authors freeze their characters in time. Parker did not, and should recognize that a 60 year-old with several gunshot wounds, scar tissue on his eyes and a oft-broken nose is not the kind of guy that the buxom girl in the college bar wants to sleep with. This book was way too close to Valediction. Parker is running out of story lines. This book is for serious fans only, and even then I'm not so sure.
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on July 27, 2000
After more than 20 crime novels, Robert Parker can still pique my interest. And twenty of almost anything usually equates to a snore. Not so here.
In "Small Vices", we revisit one of the best known ensembles of the genre; sexy invincible Spenser, seductively naive Susan, and without a doubt, the intimidating irrepressible Hawk. We also meet "The Gray Man", who wishes to put Spenser into an earlier grave than anyone, including the self-effacing Spenser, desires.
Add a friend asking for Spensers help in his framing of a murder of a young female college student, the search of suspects through Boston to the elite Manhattan crowd, and voila, another gritty up front Parker crime action in full motion.
The dialouge snaps, the plot crackles, and the .22 pops.
Thank you for your interest & comments--CDS
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