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.