Back Story (Spenser Series #30)

( 24 )

Overview

In Robert B. Parker's most popular series, an unsolved thirty-year-old-murder draws the victim's daughter out of the shadows for overdue justice-and lures Spenser into his own past, old crimes, and dangerous lives.

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Overview

In Robert B. Parker's most popular series, an unsolved thirty-year-old-murder draws the victim's daughter out of the shadows for overdue justice-and lures Spenser into his own past, old crimes, and dangerous lives.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
A cold case leads to chills and thrills in this adventure of Robert B. Parker's tough, Boston-based private eye, Spenser. Over the years, Spenser has built up an impressive web of connections on both sides of the law. But he's going to need more than just connections to meet the challenges of his latest investigation, digging into the facts behind the death of a bystander named Emily Gordon during a still-unsolved bank robbery that took place 28t years ago. At the time, a band of revolutionaries calling themselves the Dread Scott Brigade claimed responsibility for the crime…but the authorities were never able to bring the criminals to justice. Any detective can tell you that answers are hard to come by even 28 hours after a crime. When hours turn to years, the difficulty level soars. Even a big fat fee wouldn't persuade Spenser to touch this case, if anyone but Paul Giacomin had brought him the case. But Paul is practically family, and he was asking Spenser to help his friend Daryl, the dead woman's daughter, to find the answers she needs to lay the past to rest. Soon Spenser is on the case, and up to his neck in everything from FBI cover-ups to Mob machinations. It doesn't take an old pro like Spenser long to realize that bringing to light the back story behind this decades-old crime involves uncovering public and private secrets that are still as deadly as ever. Sue Stone
The Los Angeles Times
Back Story wends and jerks its switchback way through geological layers of back stories, deceptions and lies evoked by an actress' wish to see more clearly into her own past, into who killed her mother and why: a bad idea that sets off mines in the present. But it is the book's genial mood, saucy tone and ripping action that discourage all attempts to put it down. — Eugen Weber
Richard Dyer
[W]hat makes this superior Parker is the moral dilemma. Spenser is pursuing a case that no one wants him to pursue, including the person who had asked him to in the first place, and six Krispy Kremes is not a good enough reason.

''I did this work because I could. And maybe because I couldn't do any other. I'd never been good at working for someone. At least this work let me live life on my terms . . . and if you are going to live life on your own terms, there need to be terms, and somehow you need to live up to them. What was that line from Hemingway? `What's right is what feels good after?' That didn't help. I took a long drink of Scotch and soda. There was that line from who, Auden? `Malt does more than Milton can to justify God's ways to man.' I could see my face reflected in the window glass. It was the face of a guy who used to box -- the nose especially, and a little scarring around the eyes.''

Genre writing doesn't get any better than that.—The Boston Globe

People
Spencer is still the top dog.
New York Daily News
Spenser's back, just the way we like him.
Boston Globe
This is superior Parker.
Publishers Weekly
Spenser's respectable 30th outing (he debuted 30 years ago in The Godwulf Manuscript) finds the veteran Boston PI teaming briefly with Jesse Stone, the cop hero of a newer Parker series (Death in Paradise, etc.). The move works because Parker plays it low-key, presenting Stone as just one of many characters who cross Spenser's path as the PI-hired by a friend of his adoptive son, Paul, for the princely sum of six Krispy Kremes-digs into the 28-year-old murder of a woman during a bank robbery; the friend is the slain woman's daughter and wants closure. Before Spenser bumps into Stone, the top cop in Paradise, Mass., he connects the killing to the daughter of big time Boston mobster Sonny Karnofsky, an old foe. When Spenser won't back off, Karnofsky threatens Spenser's girlfriend, Susan, then orders a hit on the PI. Enter as protection longtime sidekick Hawk; other series vets make appearances too on Spenser's behalf, including cops Belsen and Quirk and shooter Vinnie Morris. An interesting new character, a Jewish FBI agent, also helps out. The repartee between Spenser and Hawk is fast and funny; the sentiment between Spenser and Susan and the musings about Spenser's code are only occasionally cloying; and there's a scattering of remarkable action scenes including a tense shootout in Harvard Stadium. Series fans will enjoy this mix of old and new, but the title kind of says it all: this series, probably the finest and most influential PI series since Chandler, could use some forward momentum. (Mar. 10) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Forbes Magazine
Wisecracks galore. Nonstop action. Suspense. Memorable characters. Unexpected twists and turns. Robert Parker is the Ernest Hemingway of mystery writers. In this, Parker's 30th crackling mystery novel with hero-gumshoe Spenser, our PI ends up with a case in which it seems no one wants him to succeed--including, ultimately, the person who "hired" him. She is an actress and the girlfriend of a young playwright/director who is like a son to Spenser. She wants the master PI to unearth the full story behind her mother's death in 1974. The mother was shot during a robbery in a bank where she'd gone to cash some traveler's checks. The crime, carried out by a revolutionary group, was never solved. (11 Aug 2003)
—Steve Forbes
Library Journal
Spenser's back to help a friend of his prot g , Paul, track down the men who killed her mother years ago in a holdup. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Though Pearl the Wonder Dog has died, she’s promptly replaced by Pearl II in the most resonant image of Parker’s attitude toward her aging, ageless owner in his 30th appearance. What a guy that Spenser is. For a retainer of half a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts—two of them consumed on the spot by his old friend, playwright Paul Giacomin (Pastime, 1991), and his friend, actress Daryl Silver—he agrees to look again into the death of Daryl’s mother, Emily Gordon, who was shot down when a revolutionary group calling itself the Dread Scott Brigade robbed the Audubon Circle branch of the Old Shawmut Bank. The main problems facing Spenser are that (1) the fatal bank robbery took place way back in 1974, in a hazy world few people remember and even fewer want to; (2) the FBI report on the robbery and the Dread Scott Brigade has vanished with nary a trace of accidental misfiling; and (3) a Boston strongman named Sonny Karnofsky sends goons with guns to Spenser’s place to make it clear that he wants Spenser to let sleeping dogs lie, though not why that’s what he’d prefer. Of course, Spenser’s made plenty of enemies in his 30-year career (Widow’s Walk, 2002, etc.), but it’s rare that a single case has estranged the mob, the Feebees, and his own client, who’s so stung by the less-than-edifying revelations he digs up about her parents that she demands he shut down the investigation and stalks out of his office. Now if only Sonny Karnofsky and Co. believed he was really quitting. But Spenser is not without the usual resources: his backup/buddy Hawk, his kill-who-you-need-to bedtime shrink Susan, and his bulldog certainty that you can’t let go just because everybody around you tells you to.Mid-grade mystery buffed to a high gloss. Like it or not, Parker has made male posturing into an art form.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425194799
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/2/2004
  • Series: Spenser Series , #30
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 217,038
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert B. Parker was the author of seventy books, including the legendary Spenser detective series, the novels featuring Police Chief Jesse Stone, and the acclaimed Virgil Cole-Everett Hitch westerns, as well as the Sunny Randall novels. Winner of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award and long considered the undisputed dean of American crime fiction, he died in January 2010.

Robert B. Parker was the author of more than fifty books. He died in January 2010.

Biography

Robert B. Parker began as a student of hard-boiled crime writers such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, but when he became a crime writer himself, he was one of the rare contemporary authors to be considered on par with his predecessors. The Spenser series, featuring a Boston-based ex-boxer and ex-cop, is one of the genre's most respected and popular fixtures.

Noted for their sharp dialogue and fine character development, the Spenser books carry on a tradition while updating it, particularly in giving its hero two strong alter egos in Hawk, a black friend and right-hand man; and Susan Silverman, Spenser's psychologist love interest. Parker's inclusion of other races and sexual persuasions (several of his novels feature gay characters, a sensibility strengthened in Parker through his sons, both of whom are gay) give a more modern feel to the cases coming into Spenser's office.

The Spenser series, which began with 1973's The Godwulf Manuscript, has an element of toughness that suits its Boston milieu; but it delves just as often into the complex relationship between Silverman and Spenser, and the interplay between the P.I. and Hawk.

By the late ‘80s, Parker had acquired such a reputation that the agent for Raymond Chandler's estate tapped him to finish the legend's last book, Poodle Springs. It was a thankless mission bound to earn criticism, but Parker carried off the task well, thanks to his gift for to-the-point writing and deft plotting. "Parker isn't, even here, the writer Chandler was, but he's not a sentimentalist, and he darkens and deepens Marlowe," the Atlantic concluded. In 1991, Parker took a second crack at Chandler with the Big Sleep sequel Perchance to Dream.

Parker took other detours from Spenser over the years. In 1999, Family Honor introduced Sunny Randall, a female Boston private eye Parker created with actress Helen Hunt in mind. Two years earlier, he introduced L.A.-to-New England cop transplant Jesse Stone in Night Passage. He also authored four bestselling Westerns featuring Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, a few young adult books, as well as several stand-alone novels that were well-received by his many fans.

Parker died suddenly in January 2010 while at home at his desk, working on a book. The cause was a heart attack. He was seventy-seven.

Good To Know

Parker's thesis in graduate school was a study of the private eye in literature that centered on Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Ross MacDonald. Critics would later put him in the same category as those authors.

Parker's main hero is named for Edmund Spenser, the 16th-century author of The Faerie Queene.

Parker had a hand in writing the scripts for some television adaptations of Spenser books starring Robert Urich, who also played Spenser in the ABC series from 1985-88. Urich suffered a battle with cancer and passed away in 2002, but adaptations continue to be made for A&E, starring Joe Mantegna. Parker approved of the new actor, telling the New York Times: ''I looked at Joe and I saw Spenser."

According to a profile in the New York Times, Parker met his wife Joan when the two were toddlers at a birthday party. The two reconnected as freshmen at Colby College and eventually had two sons. They credit the survival of their marriage to a house split into separate living spaces, so that the two can enjoy more independent lives than your average husband and wife.

Parker told fans in a 1999 Barnes & Noble.com chat that he thought his non-series historical novel All Our Yesterdays was "the best thing I've ever written."

Parker had a small speaking part in the 1997 A&E adaptation of Small Vices. How does he have time to write his Spenser books, plus the other series and the adaptation stuff? "Keep in mind, it takes me four or five months to write a novel, which leaves me a lot of time the rest of the year," he told Book magazine. "I don't like to hang around."

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    1. Date of Birth:
      September 17, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Springfield, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Death:
      January 18, 2010
    2. Place of Death:
      Cambridge, Massachusetts
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Colby College, 1954; M.A., Ph. D. in English, Boston University, 1957, 1971
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

1

It was a late May morning in Boston. I had coffee. I was sitting in my swivel chair, with my feet up, looking out my window at the Back Bay. The lights were on in my office. Outside, the temperature was 53. The sky was low and gray. There was no rain yet, but the air was swollen with it, and I knew it would come. Across Boylston, on the other side of Berkeley Street, I saw Paul Giacomin walking with a dark-haired woman. They stopped at the light and, when it changed, came on across toward my office. They both moved well, like people who'd been trained. I'd have to see her close-up to confirm, but from here I thought the woman looked good. I was pleased to see that Paul was carrying a paper bag. I swiveled my chair back around and, by the time they got up to my office, I was standing in the doorway. Paul smiled and handed me the bag.

"Krispy Kremes?" I said.

"Like always," he said.

I put the bag on my desk and turned back and hugged Paul.

"This is Daryl Silver," Paul said.

"My real name is Gordon," she said. "Silver is my professional name."

We shook hands. Daryl was, in fact, a knockout. Eagle-eye Spenser. I opened the paper bag and took out a cardboard box of donuts.

"They haven't got these yet in Boston," Paul told Daryl. "So whenever I come home, I bring some."

"Will you join me?" I said to Daryl.

"Thanks," she said. "I'd love to."

"That's a major compliment," Paul said to her. "Usually he goes off in a corner and eats them all."

I poured us some coffee. Paul was looking at the picture on top of the file cabinet of Susan, Pearl, and me.

"I'm sorry about Pearl," Paul said.

"Thank you."

"You okay?"

I shrugged and nodded.

"Susan?"

I shrugged and held out the box of donuts.

"Krispy Kreme?" I said.

The rain arrived and released some of the tension in the atmosphere. It rained first in small, incoherent splatters on the window, then more steadily, then hard. It was very dark out, and the lights in my office seemed warm.

"How did it go in Chicago?" I said.

"The play got good notices," Paul said.

"You read them?"

"No. But people tell me."

"You like directing?"

"I think so. But it's my own play. I don't know if I'd want to direct something written by somebody else."

"How's rehearsal going here?"

"We've done the play too often," Paul said. "We're having trouble with our energy."

"And you're in this?" I said to Daryl.

"Yes."

"She's gotten really great reviews," Paul said. "In Chicago, and before that in Louisville."

"I have good lines to speak," she said.

"Well, yeah," Paul said. "There's that."

With the rain falling, the air had loosened. Below my window, most of the cars had their lights on, and the wet pavement shimmered pleasantly. The lights at Boylston Street, diffused by the rain, looked like bright flowers.

"Daryl would like to talk to you about something," Paul said.

"Sure," I said.

Paul looked at her and nodded. She took in a deep breath.

"Twenty-eight years ago my mother was murdered," she said.

After twenty-eight years, "I'm sorry" seemed aimless.

"1974," I said.

"Yes. In September. She was shot down in a bank in Boston, by people robbing it."

I nodded.

"For no good reason."

I nodded again. There was rarely a good reason.

"I want them found."

"I don't blame you," I said. "But why now, after twenty-eight years?"

"I didn't know how to do it or who to ask. Then I met Paul and he told me about you. He said you saved his life."

"He might exaggerate a little," I said.

"He said if they could be found, you could find them."

"He might exaggerate a little."

"We lived in La Jolla," Daryl said. "We were visiting my mother's sister in Boston. My mother just went into the bank to cash some traveler's checks. And they shot her."

"Were you with her?" I said.

"No. The police told me. I was with my aunt."

"How old were you when your mother died?"

"Six."

"And you still can't let it go," I said.

"I'll never let it go."

I drank some coffee. There were two Krispy Kremes left in the box. I had already eaten one more than either of my guests.

"Either of you want another donut?" I said.

They didn't. I felt the warm pleasure of relief spread through me. I didn't take a donut. I just sipped a little coffee. I didn't want to seem too eager.

"I remember it," I said. "Old Shawmut Bank branch in Audubon Circle. It's a restaurant now."

"Yes."

"Some sort of revolutionary group."

"The Dread Scott Brigade."

"Ah, yes," I said.

"You know of them?"

"Those were heady times," I said, "for groups with funny names."

I reached over casually, as if I weren't even thinking about it, and took one of the donuts.

"I can't pay you very much," she said.

"She can't pay you anything," Paul said.

"Solve a thirty-year-old murder for no money," I said. "How enticing."

Daryl looked down at her hands, folded in her lap.

"I know," she said.

"Awhile ago, I did a thing for Rita Fiore," I said to Paul, "and last week her firm finally got around to paying me."

"A lot?"

"Yes," I said. "A lot."

Paul grinned. "Timing is everything," he said.

"Does that mean you'll help me?" Daryl said.

"It does," I said.

--from Back Story: A Spencer Novel by Robert B. Parker, Copyright © 2003 by Robert B. Parker, Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of the Penguin Group (USA), Inc., All Rights Reserved, Reprinted with Permission from the Publisher.

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Table of Contents

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Interviews & Essays

Talking with Robert P. Parker

Ransom Notes: How do you feel Spenser has changed most since you started writing about him?

Robert B. Parker: I have been writing about Spenser since the fall of 1971, and his first book (The Godwulf Manuscript) was published in 1973. The question of how he's changed might better be answered by a reader, rather than the writer, but it seems to me that he's become less aggressive, and somewhat kinder, over the last 30 years. I like the chance the series offers for characters to develop and change as I develop and change.

RN: What's the difference between having a P.I. as a main character, as opposed to using a police officer as you do in the Jesse Stone/Paradise books?

RBP: Making Spenser a private eye gives me (and him) more leeway to do things and go places, and it requires less police procedural expertise. While Spenser's being an ex-cop explains how he got to be such a good investigator, the "ex-" part of that allows us to know he is not an organization man, like Jesse.

RN: What made you decide to use the hippie/counterculture connection in Back Story?

RBP: I was a university professor in the '70s and encountered the movement, but I was not terribly engaged by it. Beyond that, I actually have no idea how I decide what Spenser will do next. Automatically eliminated are stories that I don't know enough about (e.g., Spenser will never be involved in a chess tournament, nor will he ever go to Borneo). Whenever the time comes to do another, I think something up.

RN: You've made Spenser's relationship with Susan important to both of them, particularly in this book. What made you decide to include a threat to her in Back Story?

RBP: I have been with the girl of my dreams (Joan Parker) in one capacity or another now, since 1950, and it is the singular experience of my life. This influences me when I write of Susan and Spenser. Susan allows us to gain insights into Spenser's behavior that we couldn't get from him. We see what kind of man he is by seeing how he is capable of feeling about her. That's why jeopardy for Susan adds intensity to a story.

RN: Why did you give Susan a new dog in Back Story, and why was it one that's so like the dog she lost?

RBP: Susan's dog loss and subsequent replacement lets the reader see how Spenser handles the loss. It also mirrors my own loss of Pearl, and her replacement with a new Pearl. My new Pearl is on the back cover of Back Story.

RN: How do you prefer to hear from readers?

RBP: Readers may write me c/o Penguin Putnam. But I must warn them that, in the normal course of things, their letter will be answered with a form letter. Though I am always alerted to anything that requires a specific answer from me, if I read and responded to all my mail I would do little else.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 24 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    still fresh, innovative and very entertaining

    Boston private investigator Spenser isn¿t an easy touch, but Paul Giacomin is like a son to him so he is willing to go the extra mile to do the man a favor. Paul, a playwright, wants Spenser to help his friend actress Daryl Silver who is starring in his play, to find out who killed her mother Emily in a Boston bank robbery in 1974. Daryl wants closure and Paul pays Spenser¿s fee, a box of Krispy Crème donuts. The Dread Scott Brigade took credit for the killing and the robbery but nobody was ever caught even thought the bank cameras caught their picture. Spenser gets the police file from the Boston Police Department and notices right away that the FBI intelligence report is missing. A little deeper into the investigation Spenser is warned of the case by government agents and is on the hit list of a crime kingpin. Even though it has become very dangerous, Spenser is determined to find out who killed Daryl¿s mother, if only to satisfy his curiosity. It has been thirty years since the first Spencer book THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT was published and the series is still fresh, innovative and very entertaining. The hero might be a little older but he still has the same quirky sense of humor and the ability not to flinch when bullets are coming in his direction. BACK STORY is a fascinating who-done-it that is both believable and somewhat nostalgic. Robert B. Parker shows why his hero has become an American icon. Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2003

    ABSOLUTELY THE BEST!!

    I agree with the other reviewers -- nobody writes like Parker and there are no 'heros' like Spenser. Many writers come close but don't quiet get there. His writing seems so smooth and you just walk into the dialog and feel like you know Susan and Hawk and Vinnie and Quirk and Belson and.....on and on! Lets just believe for more Spenser novels to come soon!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2003

    Engaging!

    A quick, engrossing, entertaining read. I have enjoyed all of the Spencer novels and was eagerly awaiting this one. It did not disappoint! Parker always comes through with an engrossing plot and plenty of wise-cracks. I only wish the author could write books as fast as I can read them! I read this book in one sitting because I couldn't put it down!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2007

    A reviewer

    Back Story makes easy summer reading read it and forget it. The dialogue, in an effort to be hip or cool or whatever today's word is, comes off stilted and hackneyed and even worse, as if Parker was trying too hard. Still, it's a pleasant mystery to spend a few hours with, but nothing great.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2007

    Dont waste your time

    I am sorry that I read this book, but I went with the rating. It does not measure up to any that I have read previously by this author. I have read about 10 titles. For me this book compares to the Jessie Stone series which I really dislike.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2003

    Definitely 5 Stars

    Another Spenser tale with it's cast of 'quirk'y characters. Reading any Parker novel allows you to escape and forget about the world. His dialog between characters (especially Spense and Susan or Spense and Hawk) cannot be matched by anyone. His plot twists are always fun, almost as fun as the whole cast he pens in the story. 'Back Story' added a nice twist and allowed us to see Spenser et al really dig.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2003

    Robert B. Parker and Spencer are Hard to Beat!!!

    It is almost like you are reading about old friends. Parker's character development is among the best in the business. You can't help but like all of them. Even Hawk (who is really my favorite). Spencer is as refreshing today as he was in the first book. Maybe growing older and questioning life more, but still as witty and tough as ever.

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