SIXKILL by Robert B. Parker
Sixkill is the last of an era for me. I’ve been reading Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels for over thirty years. Truth be told, I’ve grown up on them and selected what I thought were the wisest and best parts to mold myself into the kind of man I wanted to be, then taught them to my children.
Not only that, but Parker’s spare, lean writing was also one of the models I went to time and again as I struggled to build my writing career. Suffice to say that Parker, at least the literary side of him that I feel I best know, shaped me as a person and as a writer. That idea gave me something to aspire to and emulate.
Strangely enough, the idea of a proper role model is the crux of Parker’s latest novel. Zebulon Sixkill is a malformed individual and wannabe tough guy. He’s a bodyguard to Jumbo Nelson, a comedic Hollywood success story who is an absolute waste as a person. Jumbo embodies nearly all of the Seven Deadly Sins in his corpulent person and triggers a gag factor in me on nearly every page he’s on stage.
I wasn’t sure what to think of young Z at first. I thought he might be a younger, deadlier version of Spenser, but when their first physical encounter is a one-side debacle, I quickly revised that.
Spenser, as per the formula which became predictable toward the end of Parker’s career – though not without its rewards, was alternately hired and fired by Jumbo. Spenser was brought to the case by his good friend Marty Quirk, a high ranking homicide detective with the Boston Police Department.
The investigation into the sad death – and possible murder – of the young girl takes a backseat to all the criminal ties to Jumbo Nelson, but Parker doesn’t just sweep that bit of violence under the nearest rug. In fact, the author uses the girl’s death as a reason to flip over a lot of ugly rocks before he’s done.
The best part of the novel, though, is where Spenser is working with Z, helping him become the man he was destined to be. In some ways, the book reminds me a lot of Early Autumn, one of the best books in the series. In that book, Spenser spends time with young Paul Giacomin, teaching him how to be a man. This book shows Spenser coaching Z on becoming a tough guy, the kind of man who stands up in the face of danger and accepts all the hardships that follow.
Sadly, we all have to wonder what Parker would have done with Z if he’d gotten the chance to continue writing. However, maybe there are some notes lingering that will bring Z back into the fold. It would have been interesting to see Z’s take on Hawk.
I know another writer is attached to the series and I haven’t made my peace with that. Spenser and Parker were inextricable. You can’t have one without the other. But whatever the other writer may or may not do with Spenser and Z, the result will not be what Parker would have done.