This review is dedicated to the people of Boston.
I’m still surprised when I run across someone who is a mystery novel fan but who has never read a book by Robert B. Parker, creator of the Spenser novels that have come to define the mystery genre. His tough-as-nail-with-heart-of-gold private detective, whose first name we never know, is as much a part of the Boston landscape for me as Copley Square or Harvard Yard. The hardback editions of the books–and there around 40 in the series–include a map on the flyleaf with all of Spenser’s haunts labelled on it. Locke-Ober’s Restaurant, Faneuil Hall, his apartment on Marlborough Street and the oft-mentioned swan boats in Boston’s Public Gardens.
But we don’t just read Spenser mysteries for the Boston scenery. We read them for great characters, perfect plots, the crisp sparse language. And Spenser’s firmly rooted code of ethics. He may be a private eye and a self-admitted thug, but he’s got a clear and believable moral compass and expresses it in a way we don’t see very often any more. COLD SERVICE is the Spenser novel that best sets out that code which includes loyalty to friends, standing your ground, but never striking without provocation.
In COLD SERVICE (the title is derived from the saying that revenge is a dish best served cold) his friend Hawk is shot and left for dead. Hawk was protecting a Boston bookie from a Ukrainian mob trying to muscle into the area. Needless to say the bookie and family are dead. With Spenser’s help, Hawk recovers, infiltrates the mob, and stops it from gaining a foothold in Boston.
Not many of the Spenser books revolve so closely around Hawk, although the enigmatic thug/hitman/bodyguard/boxer who plays wingman in almost all the books. Dialogue between them is nearly a work of art:
- “They tell me I ain’t gonna die.”
- “That’s what I heard.”
- There were hard things being discussed, and not all of them aloud.
Without giving away the plot twists, let’s just say this is one of the best of the Spenser series, which is one of the best mystery series out there. The Ukrainian mob is opaque and brutish. Help comes but cannot be trusted. Strange alliances must be forged to get at the mob, but they are tenuous at best.
The mayor of a small town near Boston holds the key; his administration is synonymous with corruption. Hawk’s quest for vengeance distances him from the surgeon he’s dating and his refusal to adjust his own code eventually pushes her away. Spenser understands Hawk’s code but will not pursue revenge in the same brute force way.
The end is a terrific nail-biter.