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  Bookends: Dan Davidson
 

Hush Money

Reviewed: August 13, 2003
By: Robert B. Parker
Publisher: Berkley Books
323 pages, $9.99

Hurray for guilty pleasures, I say. Spenser novels are among those for me, It's always fitting that I read one while travelling in Nova Scotia, for it was there that I discovered them around 1980 or so. It's been an interesting couple of decades since.

Hush Money features a couple of cases that are a little unusual for Spenser, though perhaps not for Parker, whose English thesis was on the private genre. We assume from this that he knows his way around a university. Certainly he is familiar with the adage that the pettiness of university faculty politics is so extreme precisely because there is so little money attached to it.

This is germane because of the first of the two cases which Spenser is handling this time out. Hawk, of all people, comes to him with the son of a friend,, a black university professor who has been denied tenure by the English department of a Boston university. The relationship is complex, but† Robinson Nevins is the son of the man who first taught Hawk to box and gave him a reason to have some self-respect, hard as it may be to imagine that Spenserís long time partner in crime was ever without that commodity.

This is new territory for us, by the way. We learn that Spenser and Hawk have known each other since they were teenagers, and we learn about events which had a key part to play in making Hawk the man he is.

The second case seems to be the more vital one at first. Spenserís lady, Susan, also has a friend, and she is apparently being harassed by the former lover for whom she deserted her husband and daughter. The relationship went sour, but it seems that he isnít finished with it. Catching him in first the pattern and then the act turns out to be tedious but ultimately not difficult.

The tenure case turns up a lot of nasty attitudes and actions under the rocks of academia, including the indisputable facts that the young man whose death had cast a gay shadow on Nevins was not a suicide, and was also a blackmailer. When Spenserís car blows up at 3:25 one morning it becomes clear that thereís a lot more to this case than there would have seemed when it walked in the door on page 1.

There is comic relief in this story, and it comes in the desirable form of K.C. Roth, Susanís friend. K.C. is a bit of a walking cliche, which is how she got into her mess in the first place (Parkerís never been a slave to political correctness) and she completes her transformation into a parody of herself by falling madly in lust with our hero and actually stalking him. Much to her annoyance he refuses to cooperate. The resolution to this subplot is one of the most satisfying passages Iíve read in some time. Funny, too.

As always, Spenserís story is a comfortable place to be. Even when the car blows up, you know itís going to work out okay. Sometimes you almost want to set aside the story and just enjoy the ambience: as Spenser and Susan engage in verbal foreplay; as Hawk and Spenser banter with the ungodly; as Spenser whips up a meal out of the depleted resources in his pantry; as Pearl the wonder dog waits patiently for someone to give in a slip her a tidbit.

This particular product of Parkerís word processor is as comfortable as a nicely worn pair of slippers. When he wants to be darker these days he has two other series character to mess about with. Those stories are good, too, but theyíre not Spenser, and Iím glad heís still out there.

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