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Hush Money
by Robert Parker

reviewed by Scott Butki

I always have a soft spot for Robert Parker's Spenser series. I just thought I should mention that before sharing thoughts on his latest novel, "Hush Money."

Spenser is smart, witty, compassionate and very strong. I like to think I'm all of those things - well, except the strong one - so when a new Spenser book comes out I invariably read it, living vicariously through him.

There is a criticism of Parker's Spenser series which is sadly true: the books are going downhill. Bring out the stock characters - his long-time girlfriend, Susan, and his buddy, Hawk - and a few new antagonists and, presto!, a new Spenser story is born. It's almost like having your favorite uncle come to town. Sure, he tells some of the same jokes but you still like having him around.

It's also true that each book seems to be a faster read, more like browsing a comic book than a novel. But they're also damn funny in parts, such as this exchange between Susan, a therapist, and Spenser where he is explaining how he will solve the case.

"'And if that doesn' twork?' she asks.
"I'll ask you," I said.
"For some psychoanalytic theory?"
"Can't hurt."
"What I think we should do is go take a shower and brush our teeth and lie on my bed an see what kind of theory we can develop."
'"I'm pretty sure I know what will develop.
Should we shower together?' Susan said.
"If we do, things may develop too soon.'"
"Good point."

Parker also manages to avoid having Spenser become just another tough guy private detective. How many books of this genre delve into the question of what makes a person a stalker?

In "Hush Money," Spenser's long-time friend, Hawk, asks him for a favor: determine if Robinson Nevins, the son of Hawk's boyhood mentor, was denied tenure at college because he is black, because he may have been dating a gay activist who committed suicide or what the real reason is. if there is another reason?

Oh, and Hawk says he'll have to take the case for free. Ever the gentleman, Spenser agrees.

Meanwhile, his longtime love, Susan, asks him to help a friend, K.C. Roth, who is the victim of a stalker. Roth prefers to focus her attention on coming onto Spenser rather than helping him, which puts him in quite a pickle. Oh, and of course Roth won't pay Spenser either, except with more affection than he can take as a monogamous man.

Both cases go in unusual directions but nothing truly shocking occurs.

Readers are advised to try some of the earlier Spenser novels if finding meaty adventures and great surprises are what is wanted. If you just want to read the latest adventures of Spenser, though, check this out. Just remember to grab a second book since this one might leaving you wanting a bit more.

Scott Butki covers county government for the Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, Md.

Hush Money

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