This book was so much better than I remembered it being. Having read the next eight or ten books more recently I really had an impression TGM was just Parker getting his feet wet – but he gets in and swims with sharks. The most surprising thing in the whole book was that the secretary he flirts with turns out to be Brenda Loring! Her appearance at the end of the book confused me, but more later.
The hook of the series has always been that the protagonist is a tall, good looking smart alack that was a prize fighter who gets underestimated because he also has the soul (and unofficial education) of a poet. In this book he is kind of hard boiled and cynical, and his sensitivity is shown by his reluctance to resort to violence. The one fault I have with the book is that he is kinda naive to be that guy. He ends up in situations where he has no option and no hope of prevailing. He also has no leverage or backup; that does not make for long or successful careers in this field. Also, he had the drop on two bad guys about to execute his important witness and he - - - says FREEZE! ??? He deserved to get shot. I am not saying that he should have gone full Han Solo and shot first, but he could have tried to leverage his secret presence into a less ridicules outcome. Of course, that did give him a chance to leave the hospital AMA and be tough as nails while seeing things through.
Seeing things through is the hallmark of Spenser as far as I am concerned and even here in the first outing he is true to form. I don’t recall him ever sending a final bill to anyone in the entire run of the series, but he spends fairly recklessly and he often collects retainers—two in this book alone. He never does it for the money; about two-thirds because it is the morally right thing to do, and the last third to prove to himself he CAN do it. Hard not to admire a guy like that (although it would be nice to hear he got paid by at least one of the parties that hired him – even better if the university had to admit he caused the return of the manuscript and also ponied up).
I loved the awkwardness of the exchange after sleeping with the mom in the library or study of the home but again thought the sex itself was ill advised and gratuitous. The not knowing how to address someone you have been intimate with was so vulnerable and human and touching. I felt waves of sympathy and identified with the being awkward. But I felt it was stupid to do that when the husband was likely to arrive home in the middle of it. Not that the husband would have been a threat to Spenser, but that it would have made the job even harder AND the wife obviously resented her husband and wanted to punish him. I think she was hoping he would come home and catch them in the act so he would be humiliated. It was just so shortsighted of Spenser to get used by the wife like that.
Phil was the character that eventually became Vinnie Morris. Phil was kind of a freak with deformities and he was taken down by another freak- the professor’s masculine wife. She was a certain mechanism of the gods as far as I am concerned. Spenser and the professor would have been over if not for her and maybe Quirk would have known – but Terry Orchard would have been ruined and Spenser would have been barely mourned.
My last observation for now is the end of the book. He is driving around with a beautiful young woman who has already slept with him and whom he states he cares about. They go for ice crème, and he buys her cigarettes and makeup. Then as they drive around, she goes from being an independent young woman he has rescued into a child who needs to be protected and nurtured by her parents. He drops her off without even walking her to the door knowing both of her parents are the worst influence in her life with a promise to be in touch in the future. Then he gets lonely and calls the girl he flirted with earlier and has no direct connection to. I do not understand this ending and assume it has more to do with Parker protecting his real life sons than Spenser the character. Now the girl ends up being Brenda Lorring who he sees for quite a while. But Terry was a very real person who admired him and whom he is both fond of and attracted to. It isn’t cradle robbing – they have already slept together. Perhaps my lack of formal education is holding me back from seeing a larger truth.
Except to say there are a hundred details in every Spenser book that make me feel deeply- that is about all I have to say. I am very interested in what the rest of you noticed and how it made you feel or think, and if it influenced you in the long term. (I am far more likely to wonder: ‘What would Spenser do?’, than I am to think ‘What would Jesus do?’)