Showing posts with label Spenser. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spenser. Show all posts

Monday, May 11, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 43

On Paperback Warrior Episode 43, we countdown the blog’s 10 most popular reviews chosen by our readers. Tom discusses new finds by old authors Robert Colby and Andrew Frazer. Eric laments the horror of moving thousands of vintage paperbacks and shelves to a new home. Listen on your favorite podcast app,, or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 43: Top 10 Review Countdown" on Spreaker.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 41

Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 41 features an in-depth discussion of Ross Macdonald, including a review of the first Lew Archer novel.  We also talk about Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, Lawrence Block, Frederick Lorenz, Harry Whittington, and much, much more! Stream the show on any podcast app,, or download directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 41: Ross Macdonald" on Spreaker.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Spenser #03 - Mortal Stakes

Robert B. Parker authored a whopping 40 installments of his Spenser series of private-eye novels. The series was adapted for television in 1985 and consisted of 66 total episodes starring Robert Ulrich as the satirical Boston detective. In 1999, Joe Mantegna played the character in three made-for-television films. In 2020, Netflix released a film version entitled Spenser Confidential. It was based loosely on the 2010 novel written by Ace Atkins, an author that Parker's estate hired to continue the Spenser series. The character was portrayed by Mark Wahlberg, a baffling choice largely panned by critics. After enjoying the series debut, The Godwulf Manuscript (1973), and its follow-up God Save the Child (1974), I just knew that the series third installment, Mortal Stakes (1975), would be another fantastic entry.

In Mortal Stakes, the general manager of a fictional Boston Red Sox team, Erskine, hires Spenser to investigate their star pitcher Marty Rabb. Erskine feels that Rabb has been on the take to purposefully lose games. Erskine requests that Spenser go undercover as a sportswriter to investigate Rabb's possible gambling scheme. Once Spenser accepts and spends a few days spectating in the dugout and press box, a ruthless shylock named Doerr warns Spenser to back out of the job. Thankfully, the threat just encourages Spenser to dig deeper.

The investigation leads Spenser into rural Illinois where he discovers Rabb's wife isn't who she claims to be. The two may not even be married. Further, all evidence suggests that Rabb's wife was a former prostitute and performed in an adult movie. After digging up the dirt in Illinois, Spenser dives headfirst into the prostitution racket in New York City while contending with an unlikely enemy – a Red Sox radio announcer named Maynard. How Rabb, his wife, Maynard and Doerr are connected is that paperback’s central story. Like the previous installments, the author counters the suspense and tension with Spenser's condescending, satirical quips. In a lot of ways, Spenser is a far superior improvement to Richard Prather's iconic Shell Scott. Spenser is a smooth, real cool jock whereas Shel Scott is a chuckle-headed, unbelievable farce. Both are enjoyable.

In many ways, Mortal Stakes turns a corner in the series. By the end of this novel, Spenser has become a changed man. More violent, less calm. His patience is replaced with anger. While always fueled to fight, the book's fiery finale thumbs the Zippo and throws it into the fumes. Spenser's violent actions are matched only by his own weighty guilt, a balance that's emotionally sparked during a counseling session with love interest Susan Silverman.

I think the more abrasive evolution is effectively captured in one of the book's scenes. Spenser routinely packs his .38 Special revolver in a shoulder rig. By the book's end, Spenser reaches for a shotgun and rams five shells in. It's this scene that's just as important as the novel's climactic  firefight because it illustrates the evolution of the character. In reading these books in order, I'm curious to see if that same stony intensity prevails in future installments. I'm hopeful. Mortal Stakes was a riveting, explosive chapter in this long-running series. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of Mortal Stakes HERE

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Spenser #02 - God Save the Child

The debut 'Spenser' novel, "The Godwulf Manuscript", was released in 1973. The series launched a successful career for author and creator Robert B. Parker. With a spotlight on private eye Spenser, the author used traditional genre tropes but shifted the setting from Southern California to the Boston metropolis. Parker followed up the debut in 1974 with the series second installment, "God Save the Child".

Like “The Godwulf Manuscript”, its successor follows the gumshoe formula of Spenser accepting and investigating a theft. Instead of a valuable manuscript, the prize is a wealthy couple's son. 15 year-old Kevin Bartlett is missing and his parents hire Spenser to locate the boy. With a $500 retainer and a $100 daily fee, Spenser accepts the case and immediately hits a brick wall. The Bartlets seemingly know very little about Kevin and have sacrificed parenting to chase other goals. Kevin's mother is an alcoholic who chases men by hosting lavish parties. Her husband is a workaholic and generally dismisses the dysfunctional family to pursue more wealth.

Spenser strikes up a relationship with Kevin's guidance counselor, Susan Silverman, a love interest that will stay consistent as the series continues. Susan feels Kevin has gender identification issues and has an unsupported upbringing. As Spenser chases clues, a ransom note appears asking for $50,000 to return the boy safely. Once the family provides the funds, strange, macabre packages arrive hinting that Kevin may have been murdered. It is this turning point that propels the narrative into a more complex criminal investigation. Spenser aids the police and family while aligning with another series mainstay, Lieutenant Healey.

What I enjoy about Spenser, and Parker's writing style, is triumphant in this second installment: the over-indulgent, yet entertaining blend of sarcasm and humor that defines the character. With the familiar genre necessities – mystery, intrigue, love and sure-fire luck – Parker succeeds once again with an addictive, enjoyable thrill-ride for mystery readers.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Spenser #01 - The Godwulf Manuscript

The beloved 'Spenser' series of private eye novels originated in 1973 with “The Godwulf Manuscript.” Parker wrote 40 entries in the series until his death in 2010. His last Spenser was “Sixkill”, published posthumously, and an unfinished manuscript entitled “Silent Night”, later completed by literary agent Helen Brann in 2013.

Spenser is often cited as Parker's take on the Southern California private eyes of the 1930s and 40s, modernized for the 70s audience and positioned in Boston. The series is hardboiled, with an intense, fast-moving pace that eventually caught the eye of the television lens in 1985. ABC's “Spenser: For Hire” starred Robert Ulrich as the Boston gumshoe, and gained some footing with audiences for three seasons, 66 episodes and four films for Lifetime. Joe Mantegna would later capture the role for three television movies on the A&E network. Parker once described the impact of the television show on his work as “no more effect on my writing than Monday Night Football.” (TV Guide June 20, 1987)

Very little is revealed in terms of Spenser's backstory. In this debut novel, we learn that he was a former cop who was fired for insubordination. The first name is never revealed for the length of the series, but questions about the last name are quickly erased as Spenser introduces himself to a college dean; “It's with an S, not a C. Like the English poet, S-p-e-n-s-e-r.” There's mention of an estranged lover and that he was in the military in Korea. His office is in Boston, he drives a rag-top convertible, works out, has a penchant for cooking and loves beer. You now know just as much as the next Spenser fan.

The first assignment has Spenser hired by a Boston university to locate stolen property referred to as The Godwulf Manuscript. The culprit is suspected as SCACE, a far-left fringe group just looking for a cause in the form of the Student Committee Against Capitalist Exploitation. Spenser gets a lead on a young student named Terry Orchard, who is later found drugged with a smoking gun beside her dead boyfriend. The Boston PD, who really hate Spenser, finger Orchard for the crime but Spenser has reason to believe that the person who stole the manuscript is behind the murder. The investigation leads our main character through the bowels of the university, from a drug dealing professor to a local mobster, while carefully traipsing through the posh neighborhoods of Boston tracking Orchard's family and friends.

This is a speed-read at 180 pages, high on action and intensity, fueled by Parker's remarkable writing style. The author writes Spenser in the first person, but the truly incredible part of his technique is relaying to the reader everything Spenser sees in these characters and places. It's almost a left to right visualization that easily placed me in the sticky gumshoes of this captivating man named Spenser. The masters can do this well and Parker proves he's easily in that elite company.

Further, Spenser's witty and sarcastic dialogue is priceless. Whenever he faces stiff superiors (although he boldly dismisses any hierarchy), he throws out delightful one-liners like, “Can I feel your muscle?” or his own profession's ridicule like, “The ones with phones are in the yellow pages under SLEUTH”. In some ways I can't help but think Spenser had an impact on Max Allan Collins' creation of the equally sarcastic 'Quarry' or maybe how “X-Files” creator Chris Carter developed FBI agent Fox Mulder (who, in his own right, had some great dialogue with superiors).

Based on my limited experience of reading just this one lone Spenser novel, I could foresee easily reading 10-12 of these in quick succession over a short period of time. I have 40ish novels to enjoy, so I'm going to pace myself. “The Godwulf Manuscript” is one of the best of the best.

Buy a copy of this book HERE