I had a certain sadness reading this book, the first Spenser novel published after Robert B. Parker’s death. The copyright notice even attributes the copyright to the Estate of Robert B. Parker. Even though I’ve been a bit rough on him in book reports for the better part of a decade now, his early works still meant a lot to me.
An art expert and college professor engages Spenser to guard him while he conducts a ransom-for-old-painting swap. A precise bomb kills the art expert after the swap, while Spenser is still on the job, so Spenser tries to track down the art thieves. In the course of events, he finds himself as the target while investigating an elite ring of mercenaries and art thieves who might be seeking to right art confiscations from World War II.
This book eschews some of the pitfalls of the later books. When he’s the target, Spenser has the chance to summon the rainbow posse of multicultural tough guys from around the country, but he does not. The book mixes in a large number of allusions to classical literature, but it still hits the regular Spenser catch phrases (“Tough, but oh so gentle” and “Pretty to think so” and whatnot). Additionally, the plot is a little forced, particularly the resolution, which takes a ring of the aforementioned international mercenaries out for Spenser and turns in a resolution based on a bad mommy and daddy domestic situation. A couple of the plot elements and set pieces within the book might also have been lifted pretty much wholely from the early works.
So it’s not too bad, but not without its flaws. Knowing that Parker won’t pen any more of them, good or bad, still saddens me, and I’m not sure how I feel about the series continuing without him.