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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Gunmanís Rhapsody & Shrink Rap

Reviewed: October 23, 2006
By: Robert B. Parker
Publisher: Berkley Books & Jove Books
316 pages / 340 pages, $10.99

Itís been about 23 years now since I discovered the works of Robert B. Parker in a used book store in Nova Scotia one summer. It was a Spenser mystery, of course. One thing led to another and Iíve read most of the 30 books in that series at this point. They appeared at a rate of about one a year and once I had read the ones I had missed it was easy to keep up.

Writers are supposed to slow down as they get older, which was why it was a surprise when Parker shifted gears and wrote a couple of Philip Marlowe novels, one from an outline left by Raymond Chandler and the other a sequel which made sense out of the ending of another of Chandlerís books.

Apparently using another voice triggered something in Parkerís creative mind. Suddenly he developed two new series, books which basically took another look at some of Spenserís issues, but from another point of view. And then he started writing westerns.

The first one was Gunmanís Rhapsody, a lean retelling of the legend of Wyatt Earp, particularly of the events leading up to and immediately following the OK Corral shootout.

Parkerís third person portrayal of Earp and the people around him is tense with action, but also shows how much of the tension in their lives was generated by plots and counterplots rather than by actual physical violence.

Itís typical of a Parker novel, however, that the real story is a romance, the relationship between Wyatt and Josie Marcus, which drives a wedge between the Earps and their natural competition, the Clanton boys, who are friends with Josieís former beau, Johnny Behan. This is the root cause from which all the branches of violence grow. Like Spenser, this is the sacred thing which Wyatt will risk everything to protect.

Sunny Randall is a woman trying to prosper in what many would call a manís world. Divorced from her husband, whom she still loves, and from her first choice of career, because being a police officer was too restricting for her, Sunny is trying to carve out a place for herself in Spenserís world.

Shrink Rap is all about relationships, and the double pun in the title is delightful once you figure out where the story is going. Sunny is hired to be bodyguard and travelling companion to a bestselling romance novelist whose love live has gotten a little messy. She is being stalked by her ex, a charming and domineering psychiatrist who knows just exactly how to push her buttons and pull her strings.

In order to find out how to handle him Sunny has first to consult an analyst on her own and then go undercover as a patient to her clientís stalker in order to get the goods on him.

The problem with that is that both shrinks diagnose Sunny as a person with relationship issues, vastly complicated in this novel by the fact that her ex may be about to move on in his life with a woman who Sunny canít help but dislike even though she canít find anything objectively wrong with her.

We have known that one of Sunnyís problems in her marriage is that she, the policemanís daughter, was married to Richie, who is the straight shooting son of a mob boss. That was a contradiction she could never resolve, but now it seems that there are others.

It appears that in Parkerís universe only Spenser is allowed to have a contented love life with a minimum of complications. All his other protagonists have had troubled personal lives. Earp and Josie work it out and see each other into their senior years, but both Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone (his other series, this one about a small town chief of police) have difficult personal lives. Sunny has more close friends and associates than Jesse, who is a loner struggling with a tendency to alcoholism, but both lack intimate companions.

Itís interesting to see how Parker works with all these variations. The style is still his, but it has a different flavour in each case.

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