Back Story

Back Story

4.0 25
by Robert B. Parker, Joe Mantegna

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Renaissance man Spenser - he of the acerbic social commentary, the gourmet cookery, and the steely abs - turns his considerable talents to the unraveling of a thirty-year-old murder mystery. During a 1974 holdup in a Boston bank by a revolutionary group calling itself the Dread Scott Brigade, Emily Gordon, a visitor cashing traveler's checks, is shot and killed.

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Renaissance man Spenser - he of the acerbic social commentary, the gourmet cookery, and the steely abs - turns his considerable talents to the unraveling of a thirty-year-old murder mystery. During a 1974 holdup in a Boston bank by a revolutionary group calling itself the Dread Scott Brigade, Emily Gordon, a visitor cashing traveler's checks, is shot and killed. Despite security-camera photos and a letter from the group claiming responsibility, nobody saw who shot her, and the perpetrators have remained at large for three decades. Enter Paul Giacomin, the closest thing to Spenser's son. When Paul's friend Daryl Gordon, Emily's daughter, decides she needs closure regarding her mother's death, she turns to Spenser, who must reach past the lack of clues and missing FBI report to seek the truth.

Editorial Reviews

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

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
Spencer is still the top dog.
Boston Globe
This is superior Parker.
New York Daily News
Spenser's back, just the way we like him.
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

Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
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5.14(w) x 5.82(h) x 1.14(d)

Read an Excerpt


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.


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.


"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?"


"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."


"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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