In Rough Weather, Spenser, Robert B. Parker’s tough guy Boston gumshoe, makes his 36th appearance in as many years. Not much has changed over the period. Hawk, his black friend, enforcer and protector, is still very much around, as is his so-clever and still beautiful shrink lover Susan Silverman. Not a lot of ageing goes on in the Spenser series.

What also remains is the sharp, witty dialogue, the literary references and the fast-paced plots, comfortingly reminiscent of the hard-boiled era of mystery writing. Spenser is hired by a rich, promiscuous, gold-digging femme fatale to be in attendance at her daughter’s wedding on a private island. A tempest blows, a helicopter lands, armed thugs emerge, several people are shot dead and the bride is kidnapped. In charge of the attack is the Gray Man, who tried to kill Spenser several novels ago. But the dramatic events don’t make sense to Spenser, who investigates, spurred on by a feeling of guilt that he didn’t prevent the carnage. Parker delivers yet again.

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Spenser is back for his 36th novel, and there are more than a few familiar elements, even beyond the usual recurring characters and the return of Spencer’s nemesis, the Gray Man. In fact, you could argue that the State Police captain, Healy, is the real star of this show, and it’s about time Parker gave Healy his own novel to show his appreciation, maybe teamed up with the local cop, Quirk.

In this one, Spenser is hired to escort a wealthy woman to her daughter’s wedding, and the guest list includes Rugar, the Gray Man. That should send some kind of warning signal, but it doesn’t, at least not until the helicopter arrives, the guards are shot dead, and Rugar plugs the groom between the eyes and makes off with the bride.

The familiar elements here include the child in distress, the wealthy with their own agenda, the killer with a code of honour, and an almost interminable repetition of the Spenser-Susan-Hawk mutual self-appreciation society. I’m not sure if Parker figures he’s got to reprise the psychology between this triangle, or why they all think they are the bees-knees, speaking in Freudian terms, but he does and they do at great length here, to the detriment of what is otherwise a pretty interestingly plotted book.

As usual, Spenser bulls around until he discovers a link, at which point the big surprise at the end becomes fairly obvious. And as has been the case in a number of Spenser novels, our hero also decides to let some bad guys walk, for reasons that apparently outweigh multiple murder. And as in the previous books when that has happened, seeing Spenser work out how to punish someone else who should get punished would be more interesting that Parker’s finish, but would also take a lot more time.

Parker remains the master of the easy-reading, compelling, thriller, but they are growing progressively less satisfying. Rather than continuing his present remarkable output of journeyman work, it would be intriguing to see a big book that brings characters together, perhaps brings some stories to an end, or, as I suggested earlier, gives some of the more interesting bit players their due. In fact, Healy could star in the sequel to this one, pinning the crime on its real mastermind.

Michael Carlson

Rough Weather

Robert B Parker

Quercus £16.99 ISBN 9781847242440

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