Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

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I’ve been reading Robert B. Parker since 1978. He has three series currently in the works. His long-running Spenser series, the Sunny Randall series about a female private eye, and Jesse Stone, the police chief in a small town. All of them have commonalities and often move through the same world of supporting characters.
In addition to his mystery/suspense series, Parker has also written stand-alones and Westerns, including the recent Appaloosa. I’m looking forward to his first YA out next year. It’s called The Edenville Owls, and the title alone has me curious.The first Spenser book of his I ever read was Promised Land, which was – coincidentally – the first book that introduced Spenser’s relationship with Hawk, the street-smart black enforcer who’s been Spenser’s best friend through thick and thin.

During these past twenty-eight years, I’ve grown but Spenser still maintains the same eternal vigilance he’s always shown, and always remained more or less true to his roots. He’s the quintessential private eye, the tough guy with the smart lip, and he’s not afraid of anybody. An ex-boxer, Spenser knows his way around a physical confrontation, whether it’s with fists or with pistols. However, he’s also probably the best-read and one of the best gourmets (hats off to Nero Wolfe as the best) and best ladies’ men out there.

Spenser has a wide circle of friends. There’s Susan Silverman, his lover, Hawk, his friend, Paul Giacomin, his surrogate son, Frank Belson and Martin Quirk, the homicide guys. And dozens besides. Spenser has helped them all out of tough spots now and again.

But the one person many fans seem split over is April Kyle. In the book Ceremony, Spenser was recruited by Susan to help find a wayward teenager that was one of Susan’s students. As it turned out, April ran away from home to become self-sufficient – and immediately fell into a life of prostitution. However, she was with some heavy-handed creeps that were destined to use her and lose her.

Spenser rescued April Kyle from what was doomed to be a short, unhappy life. However, since April refused to go back home and threatened only to run away again if anyone made her go home, Spenser elected an innovative course and talked to professional madam Patricia Utley. Utley agreed to move April Kyle from the streets into penthouse prostitution, at least saving her as much as they were able.

A few years later, April Kyle became a woman and fell in love. Then she was taken away again. Spenser was once more called on to rescue her in Taming A Seahorse. At the end of the novel, April kind of gave up on love and returned to the life she’d made for herself.

In my own view, I think Spenser (and Parker) played true to their ideas of individual independence by thinking outside the box. A lot of fans were shocked. Some of them were appalled. It gave me some really deep thoughts to consider about how we fit into life and how much freedom we have to give other people we care about.

Over the years, Parker has taken a lot of flack about the April Kyle books. I have to wonder if he sat down to compose this story with trepidation or a confidence to once more tweak the noses of the moral majority.

Because April Kyle is back in Hundred Dollar Baby, and she’s brought a ton of trouble with her. She shows up in Spenser’s office and he doesn’t even know her. Then she quickly explains that she’s opened up a brothel for the upper class. Unfortunately, organized crime members are now trying to muscle in on the operation. Spenser agrees to take the pressure off April and invites Hawk into the mix.

Of course, that’s just the jumping off point of the novel. Spenser still has a lot of dangerous ground to cover, and a lot of soul-searching to do as he once more takes up the gauntlet to defend April Kyle’s honor like a knight errant. Except that Spenser is no one’s fool and knows that more is going on that what is seen at first blush.

It’s hard to discuss much about the plot without giving too much away. The writing is tight and lean, a pleasure to read as always. The humor and snappy patter is there, but I know that many of the readers who had a problem with the eventual outcome concerning April Kyle’s employment are going to have problems with this one because of Parker’s win-win portrayal of prostitution.

There are some interesting moment between Spenser and Hawk, and even some with Teddy Sapp, the tough guy from Atlanta, Georgia Spenser met during Hugger Mugger. As always, Parker builds his characters adroitly, fleshing them out – at least as they’re needed for the book, but more than well enough for me to see them and hear them – in a few quickly chosen words, then letting their actions and what they say define them the rest of the way.

I had a good time with this one. I sat down to read a few chapters and ended up finishing it before I went to bed. If you’re a Parker fan, or if you’ve dropped out for a few books but want to know more about April Kyle, this is a good book to pick up.


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