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Cold Service (Spenser Series #32)

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When his closest ally, Hawk, is beaten and left for dead while protecting a bookie, Spenser embarks on an epic journey to rehabilitate his best pal, body and soul. But that means infiltrating a ruthless mob—and redefining his friendship with Hawk in the name of vengeance...

“Cold Service moves with the speed of light.”—Orlando Sentinel

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Cold Service (Spenser Series #32)

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When his closest ally, Hawk, is beaten and left for dead while protecting a bookie, Spenser embarks on an epic journey to rehabilitate his best pal, body and soul. But that means infiltrating a ruthless mob—and redefining his friendship with Hawk in the name of vengeance...

“Cold Service moves with the speed of light.”—Orlando Sentinel

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Editorial Reviews

Paula L. Woods
Some quietly powerful scenes between Spenser and Hawk show the depth of their long-term friendship, and equally thoughtful exchanges between Spenser and Susan reveal an enduring and enviable love. All this in a package that features writing as lean and seductive as poetry -- plus Hawk dishing up his own brand of retribution -- makes Cold Service one hot mystery.
— The Washington Post
Library Journal
Spenser cares for badly injured buddy Hawk, then goes after the Ukrainian mob that nearly killed him. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
Parker/Spenser fans will remember Small Vices (1997), wherein the Boston PI was shot nearly dead and his sidekick Hawk nursed him back to health. This strong new Spenser novel flips that scenario, with Hawk shot and Spenser helping him first to get better, then to take revenge. Their targets are Boots Podolak and his army of Ukrainian thugs who run the black/Hispanic Boston satellite city of Marshport. Their goal is more complicated than just vengeance, though. When Boots's henchmen shot Hawk, they also killed the man he was protecting-a rival of Boots-as well as the man's wife and two of his three children, and now Hawk wants not only to destroy Boots and his operation but to channel millions of Boots's money toward the surviving child. To get at Boots, Spenser and Hawk tap on several series regulars, most notably black gangster Tony Marcus, who is doing business with Boots, and the Gray Man, the assassin who nearly killed Spenser in Small Vices; meanwhile, Susan, Spenser's psychiatrist girlfriend, dispenses sage advice, but stays mostly in the background. The novel features a complicated plot, numerous tough guys and plenty of tension that builds to an (interestingly) off-page mano- -mano shootout between Hawk and Boots. This isn't Parker's best, nor his best Spenser, and the novel has a slightly rushed quality, but it's sincere, visceral entertainment that will more than satisfy the author's fans. Agent, Helen Brann. (Mar. 3) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Eight years after Spenser was shot and left for dead (Small Vices, 1997), it's Hawk's turn to seek revenge on his would-be killers. The Ukrainian mob, branching out from Brooklyn to Beantown, wants to horn in on Luther Gillespie's racket, so the bookie hires Hawk as his bodyguard. Result: Gillespie dead, most of his family ditto, Hawk shot three times in the back. Naturally, this will not stand; as soon as Hawk's back in shape several months later, he's eager to go after the shooters. Identifying five Ukrainian suspects is a snap, but when the DA's office bobbles the case, Hawk and Spenser are left on their own, except for the sympathy of Susan, Spenser's favorite shrink; Cecile, Hawk's favorite thoracic surgeon; and the underhanded but heartfelt support of the Boston Police Department and the FBI. The shooters, it seems, are protected by Boots Podolak, the mayor and unofficial owner of Marshport, whose move into Boston is fully though unhappily supported by Massachusetts East mob kingpin Tony Marcus. Hawk's problem, then, is to eliminate the button men and provide a trust fund for the surviving Gillespie boy without ruffling too many feathers of the mob, the Ukrainians, or their overlords, heroin-smuggling terrorists from Afghanistan (don't ask). If this unusual diplomatic brief sounds fearfully complicated and well outside Hawk and Spenser's usual field of expertise, don't worry. It's nothing that can't be resolved by the condign application of baleful glares, well-chosen handguns, and a concentration of man's-gotta-do wisdom that's high even for this celebrated series (Bad Business, 2004, etc.). Somebody seems to have misplaced a reel between the High Noon build-up and the Fistful ofDollars finale. The testosterone-laced attitudinizing is sharp and often compelling, though no substitute for an honest attempt to surmount difficulties that melt away instead at a touch of Spenser and Hawk's magic hands. Agent: Helen Brann/Helen Brann Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425204283
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/7/2006
  • Series: Spenser Series , #32
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 224,653
  • Product dimensions: 4.34 (w) x 7.58 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

ROBERT B. PARKER was the author of seventy books.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 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 & 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:

Table of Contents

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Interviews & Essays

Ransom Notes Interview with Robert B. Parker

Ransom Notes: You say the title from this book comes from the saying "Revenge is a dish best served cold." What did you find most interesting about focusing this story on Hawk's need for vengeance -- centered on planning actions that are outside the law?

Robert B. Parker: I was fascinated with the control of deep emotion that the phrase "cold service" implies. Hawk was able to contain his feelings in the service of them. That ability is one of the things that makes Hawk what he is. Spenser is capable of that as well, and both of them understand the need for such containment without any need to talk about it. Spenser knows that there is no absolute solution to the conflict which may sometimes occur between what's right and what's legal. At such moments he remembers Hemingway's statement to the effect that "what's right is what feels good afterwards." Or, as he himself has said, "I do what I can, not what I ought." The test of loyalty, like the test of love, or honor, or any of the intangibles that make us human, is how you are able to respond when being loyal or loving or honorable is difficult and costs a great deal. Hawk and Spenser understand each other and trust each other, and in a nearly bottomless way, love each other. Nothing changes that, not even the events of Cold Service.

RN: Hawk spends much of the book recuperating from serious injuries. What was the most interesting thing about placing such limits on someone who is normally so physically imposing?

RBP: While slightly less imposing perhaps than Hawk, I had a near-fatal piece of major surgery in January 2000, and I use a lot of what I learned from that in Cold Service. Heroes need to be able to deal with what befalls them, not just with bad guys but with loss, and pain, and weakness, and all that stuff. What I like about Hawk here is that he remained Hawk even when he could barely stand. And, in the appropriate time, he returned to being what he was. He got back up on the horse, as it were.

RN: The partnership between Spenser and Hawk has always crossed racial boundaries. Would you like to talk about how racial and ethnic issues come into play in Cold Service?

RBP: Race seems to be one of the intractable issues in human behavior, its insistence is made more puzzling perhaps because in the larger biological context there's not really any such thing. It is a largely human invention, dependent on differences which have little evolutionary or biological significance. The difference between a black bookie, say, and a Ukrainian bookie is of no significance. But the difference between a bookie and a cop is of considerable significance, if you want to place a bet.

RN: Can you tell us anything about your future writing plans?

RBP: This year (2005) there will be two Spensers (spring and fall). In June there will be a western, Appaloosa. Then, in future years, there will be a Spenser, a Jesse Stone, and a Sunny Randall book each year.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 29 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 12, 2011

    Robert B. Parker's Spenser novel Cold Service...

    I loved it... I am and have always been a die=hard Spenser Novel's fan... Some of his books in the so long ago time span in the list of the novels have not been up to his regular standard, but Cold Service was!!! I highly recomend this book and novel if you are a long time Spenser fan! Great read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 22, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    You have to read this!

    The 1st Spenser book I ever read. Now I have begun to read them all.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I agree with the others...

    I must say that I agree with the other reviewers with two stars or less.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2006

    Strong, Silent, Navel-Gazing

    If you're into super-macho, monosyllabic navel-gazing, this is the book for you. I got through it, wondering how Parker would wind it up, and found the ending as disappointing as the rest of it. (I got to the last page thinking, 'Huh?') I don't know how Parker could write some of this pop-psychological stuff without rolling on the floor, laughing. As Hawk's girlfriend said, 'Spare me!' This is definitely not Parker's best -- not even close.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2006

    New Spenser novel a bust

    I have read all the Spenser novels and am currently reading them in chronological order for the first time. I made an exception and read both School Days and Cold Service because they were new. I was shocked by the shallowness of the book, the totally unrealistic plot, and the changes in Susan's role as well as Hawk's. My first thought was 'Who are you and what have you done with Spenser's author?' Needless to say, this one rates a 'pass' on my list of Spenser novels to re-read two years from now when I once again delight in reading the series. There is only one other Spenser novel that I didn't care for (Pale Kings and Princes). If you loved that one, you can probably disregard my review. However, I highly recommend checking out the first few pages before purchasing it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2005

    No Service

    I have read Robert Parker for years and usually love his stuff. His early books are the best. I like the Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall characters,too. But this book was a bore, the plot thin. I just didn't care what happened. I thought it was just me, but my husband also read the book, and agrees it is hardly up to Parker's standards. Left me, um, cold...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2005

    Going through the motions

    I have read many Spenser books in the past, and this was the worst by far. Spenser and Hawk have become almost like invincible cartoon superheroes, and every couple of chapters Susan chimes in to explain 'the code' between the men - otherwise she has no function whatsoever. The only Parker book I'll read now will be the Jesse Stone series and least he's almost like an actual human.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2005

    Its Just OK

    I was really disappointed this isnt one of his best. If you took all the curse words not much left. Plus who can say all those names.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2005

    Cold Service leaves you cold

    I found the book boring and very difficult to follow. It did not hold my interest. Usually I cannot put Mr Paker's books down. This one was hard to pick up at times. Won't stop me from reading whatever else this master writes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2005


    I agree with other reviewers that this was not Mr. Parker's best; between the Ukranian mob and the Boston bad guys, it became confusing at time; however, when it comes to dialog, Parker is the master! Even if you skip over the narrative and just read the dialog, it's worth it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2005

    Not Parker's Best

    As an avid fan of Robert B. Parker, whom I consider a master of the genre, I was terribly disappointed in this book. It won't stop me from buying his next one, but this one won't pick up any new readers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2005

    Revenge is Best Served Cold

    Parkers newest has all the characters Parker fans have grown to love,on both sides of the legal 'fence'. And this time Parker takes you deeper inside the 'psyche' of both Hawk and Spenser, as Hawk learns (maybe for the first time) what it's like to be afraid. This newest 'Spenser' novel does even more to blur the line between good and bad, as Spenser and Hawk (once again) step over the legal 'limit line' to, this time,avenge an attack on Hawk. This is a good 'Spenser' story, with alot going for it. It is, however, not one of Parkers best.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2005

    The best Spenser book in years ... the best EVER!

    This is the definitive 'Spenser' novel, and not just if you're a big fan of Hawk (like me). The action is first-rate and the character development, not just for Hawk but also for Spenser (and those around them), is great, too. If you've read the editorial reviews, you know the synopsis: Hawk is shot, he recovers and with the help of Spenser enacts his own brand of brutal justice (some would call it revenge) on those responsible for him being shot. But it's more. You actually get an understanding of *WHY* Hawk must personally enact his sense of justice; and why despite everything 'justice' is still the better word than 'revenge'. But Robert Parker writes this novel so well that you realize that it is a very thin line between 'justice' and 'revenge' and, indeed, even though you're rooting for Hawk all along (or at least, I was), there still is that question about whether it's justice or revenge. And you see the high 'price' Hawk has paid in being 'Hawk'. And that despite the cost, it was more than well worth it! But enough of the 'Susan-esque' psychobabble. You have action. You have suspense. You have people getting shot. You have 'the Gray Man' (who nearly killed Spenser in 'Small Vices'). You have our intrepid duo displaying their macho superiority over every other testosterone (and estrogen) possessing being on the Eastern seaboard. You have the essence of why Parker's fans love his writing. If I don't tell you more about what happens it's only because I don't want to spoil the fun. Let me just say that this is probably the best book Robert B. Parker has ever written. This is the one we've all been waiting for. Postscript. The one thing I will giveaway that is so apparent as you read this one is that Hawk does have his perfect match. Rita Fiore.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2005

    Too Much Susan

    An excellent book, as are most of the Spencer novels. I think there was a little too much of Susan and her need to over analize things. She redeamed herself in SMALL VICES, but she can annoy the hell out of me sometimes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2005

    Spencer plays Hamlet

    Most of the time Spencer sits around and talk and talks and talks. Lots of charters? yes. Lots of dead peope? You Bet. Still, the worse Spencer ever? I admit it. I am a huge fan and I even like that last Sunny Randall book, but this one...! Parker finds a WMD, He kills all his readers through comatoses.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2005

    Justice is coming....and his name is Hawk!

    I've always enjoyed the Hawk character and I've wanted to see more of him in a Spenser novel. If you love Hawk, this is your book! If there is a worse person to wrong than Spenser, it is Hawk. And the bad guys are going to find this out in 'Cold Service'. The moral limits of Spenser are tested as he strives to help Hawk exact the justice (or is it revenge?) that is needed to restore Hawk to himself. Not only does the reader get to explore Spenser's boundaries but also Hawk's plus the loyalty, trust and honor that defines their friendship. Sprinkle in old favorites like Vinnie Morris, Rita Fiore, etc. and you have the recipe for a first rate reading experience. One of the best parts of having an author write about the Boston area (and living or having lived there yourself) is picking out the places and saying, 'I know that place' or 'I've been there'. Even though Marshport is a fictitious name, it describes an area where an actual city is. It is fun to follow Spenser and Hawk down streets and into places with which you are very familiar. And even if you are not from the Boston area, the descriptions are vivid and you feel as if you can see them in your mind. I could barely put this book down. I highly recommend it!

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Parker is one of the best mystery writers

    The Ukrainian mob has begun to muscle its way into the Boston rackets with an eye on competing against Luther Gillespie's bookie operations. Luther fearing the intrusion of this dangerous group from Brooklyn hires Hawk as his bodyguard. However, as good as Hawk is, the mob proves better at killing and most of Gillespe¿s family except for his young son are murdered, while Hawk takes three bullets in his back.................... Hawk identifies the shooters but the case is botched leaving it to Hawk¿s code of ethics to take action although the Ukrainian gangsters have sanctuary in nearby Marshport from the mayor and the local mob. Still taking out five is not the difficult task especially with Spenser covering his back; it is taking out the quintet without retaliation from the Ukrainians, their handlers, and the Mass-east mob without leaving evidence for the Feds or the police that is the problem........................ The Spenser series always is at the stratospheric levels of male in your face boldness, but this time Robert B. Parker takes the machismo gene to the upper area of the atmosphere, the exosphere. The story line is action-packed as the two friends continue their quest proving why bullets have a certain phallic shape. Series fans will enjoy this thriller filled with Superman levels of testosterone in which even their respective female Docs fail at softening the avenging duo.................. Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2005

    Not His Best!

    This was not Robert Parker's best Spencer novel. It was slow reading for me, boring a lot of the time. Also there was too much time spend on the 'lingo' talk between Hawk and Spencer. BUT I will say if you pay attention to all said throughout the novel, then you will see that there is more complexity to the ending than meets the eye.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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