You can't call Robert B. Parker's newest private eye a gumshoe because she prefers to wear black ankle boots; or, to accessorize her suit, she will pick out a ''fabulous pair of matching heels.'' Sonya ''Sunny'' Randall - cute, 5 feet 6, blond, 32, and at 115 pounds weighing in at about half of what Spenser does - favors a double-breasted blue pinstripe suit, white shirt open at the throat, and tiny silver hoop earrings along with the ankle boots when she's paying a formal call. Where to carry her Smith & Wesson .38 Special presents a fashion problem; her solution is a speed holster at the small of her back, under her jacket. You might say she looks a little like Helen Hunt, who asked for a series, got Family Honor, and will play Sunny in the movie.
At one point in her debut adventure, Sunny Randall remarks that it would be nice if she weighed 200 pounds and used to be a boxer, and Parker's readers will know she is not speaking theoretically. The form and formula of
Family Honorare the ones Parker has honed through 26 Spenser novels and the two leadoff novels of a series featuring recovering alkie Jesse Stone sleuthing around the North Shore. There are good guys and bad guys and troubled characters caught between them. You know there will be excellent food, more dubious pop psychology, familiar Boston locations and traffic patterns, and lubricious conversation between sexual soul mates, not to mention some pretty spicy carryings-on. There will be a code of honor that does not coincide in every particular with the code of law. Sunny will need to be smart and tough, quick on the draw with tongue and gun, and she is. She can hold her own with Spenser in the sexual appetite department, and about her only failing is that she can't cook worth a damn.
Her back story is a bit unusual. Her father's a retired cop and her hapless, hopeless mother whines at her. Her ex-husband is the straight son of a mob boss. She still loves the guy, and he loves her, but they haven't found a way of making it work. In the meantime, a temporary expedient, if that's what you want to call it, comes along in the form of a hunky Boston cop named Brian who, Sunny notices, has ''thick black hair and a cute butt and a wonderful smile.''
Sunny wants to be an artist and is taking painting classes at the Museum School. She's had a show at a gallery on South Street (the Globe's art critic called her ''a primitivist with strong representational impulses''). To support herself, Sunny followed in her father's footsteps, but decided not to stay in uniform; now she's starting her own business.
The case is one Spenser would know how to handle, because he's handled it at least twice before. Millicent Patton - the troubled teenage daughter of politically ambitious, wealthy, and repellent parents - has run away from home and is hooking behind the Hynes Convention Center, like a character in Taming a Seahorse. Once temporarily rescued by Sunny, she must be rehabilitated - a process that parallels the emotional rebirth of Spenser's surrogate son Paul over several novels beginning with Early Afternoon.
Millicent knows too much about what some very bad people are up to, and she is therefore in extreme danger, and so is Sunny. Resourceful as Sunny is, she needs help; fortunately she has it on hand. Spenser has Susan to discuss therapeutic issues with; Sunny can turn to her friend Julia. Spenser has Hawk as buddy and backup, and Sunny has not only Richie, her ex, but Spike, a gay pal who is part owner of a restaurant called Beans & Rice near Quincy Market. Spike can cook, works out wearing his karate black belt, knows all the words to show tunes, and if he ever meets Spenser, will be able to compete not only with body blows but with withering repartee. One would like to know more about Spike's back story, and one day we probably will.
It all works out as you know it will but never exactly how you think it might, which is one enduring source of satisfaction in reading Parker. The bad guys are not just professional crooks but also smug therapists and headmistresses of tony schools. This is another source of satisfaction. ''She was tall and slim and fluty with a prominent nose and the kind of clenched-molar WASP drawl that girls used to acquire at Smith and Mount Holyoke,'' Sunny says of Miss Plum, the headmistress. ''She was wearing one of those hideous print-prairie dresses that are equally attractive on girls, women, and cattle.''
Because Parker is traveling across familiar territory that he mapped out himself, he moves with practiced ease, and the psychologizing seems better integrated than it has on previous occasions. And long before the end of Family Honor, it's clear that he has another winner, and now he can juggle three ongoing series. Actually, to be politically correct, he should launch a fourth, featuring Hawk and Spike, and then, to cap his career, a mega-novel, featuring Spenser, Stone, Sunny, Hawk, and Spike that reveals that one of them has been the supervillain behind everything all along (it would have to be Spenser, because Sunny was only 3 years old when Spenser's first recorded case appeared, in 1971). Naturally, such a book would have to be published posthumously, and no reader of Parker can tolerate the idea that he might predecease the rest of us. Still, one can fancy the idea that Sunny might one day learn to cook, and Spenser may puzzle Susan by showing up wearing a tiny silver hoop earring.
This book delivers plenty of pace and lots of action.
An easygoing, easy-to-read Parker is just right for a hot summer afternoon when a Dashiell Hammett can seem a dash dense.
Christian Science Monitor
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After 33 novels--including more than two dozen Spenser mysteries--backboned by heros concerned with distinctly male codes of behavior, Parker presents his first female protagonist. She's Sunny Randall, and she's a keeper. In some ways, Sunny is a female Spenser. Like him, she's a former cop, now a Boston PI, quick with a pistol and a quip. She teams with an odd sidekick, Spike, as Spenser teams with Hawk, and she has a significant other, an ex-husband to Spenser's Susan. But Sunny is female, and as she explains in this wonderfully involving and moving novel, that means that she can't rely on the compass of "Be a man" to orient toward life. How to live correctly is this novel's theme, as it is in the best Spenser novels, and to explore that theme Parker borrows situations from those novels. Sunny is hired by a powerful family to find their runaway daughter, Millicent, who, it transpires, is hooking and needs rescuing--like the girl in Taming a Sea-Horse. Once saved from the streets, Sunny trains Millicent in responsible adult ways--cooking, exercise--as Spenser trained Paul in Early Autumn. But it's only a minor knock that Parker uses here elements honed in 30 years of writing, for he uses them with consummate skill. Millicent, it happens, witnessed a conspiracy to murder arising from her cold, ambitious parents--her father aims to be governor--and the Italian mobsters who control them. The mobsters now want her dead, and Sunny, too, if need be. Sunny's fight to save Millicent and herself moves through a wide swath of Boston and its denizens, all etched in Parker's lean and exquisitely cadenced prose. The high suspense is equaled by the emotional power of Sunny's bonding with the damaged girl. A bravura performance, this novel launches what promises to be a series for the ages. BOMC main selection; film rights to Helen Hunt. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
To quote KLIATT's Jan. 2000 review of the Dove Audio/New Star audiobook edition: Parker introduces a new character in this mystery, whose name is Sunny Randall... Her beloved father is a retired policeman, and she has taken the route of being a private investigator... This case takes her to an estate in the Boston suburbs, called by parents to locate their runaway teenage daughter. Sunny dodges insults from the mother and sexual come-ons from the father to set out on the trail of their obviously miserable daughter. She locates the girl on the streets, and beats up her pimp in the rescue. Sunny takes Millicent home with her, to the loft where she paints and has a private life. Sunny is determined to get at the truth of the mess in the home the girl left behind. As Sunny protects Millicent from killers who are stalking her, she turns to her closest friends for help: her ex-husband, the son of a local crime boss, who provides essential contacts for Sunny; Spike, a homosexual waiter/actor, whose strength and compassion are supports Sunny relies on; and Sunny's girlhood friend, now a wife, mother, and social worker...as well as Sunny's dog, whose personality is as fully developed as the human characters, and who is always endearing, providing comic and emotional relief. This is a particularly good YA selection, especially because of the 15-year-old central to the case. Granted, at the beginning, this is a girl everyone doesn't like very much, but by the end of the story we are all on her side. KLIATT Codes: SA*Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Berkley, 320p, $7.50. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: ClaireRosser; January 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 1)
Private investigator Sunny Randall has a full array of family and friends who help her in her new business. Her complex life becomes even more so when she locates the runaway teenager whom she has been hired to find, only to decide that the young girl's home is not a healthy place; so Sunny keeps her while she investigates her clients. Her inquiries reveal some seemingly unrelated murders, and soon she finds herself killing a man to protect young Millicent. Andrea Thompson is easy to listen to; her husky voice is believably one of a self-described "cute" thirty-something blond who can get tough when necessary. Men, too, are portrayed with panache, whether it be a pimp or Sunny's attractive and devoted ex-husband. Most listeners will be drawn into the story immediately. Recommended for popular collections.--Juleigh Muirhead Clark, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Lib., Williamsburg, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
An easygoing, easy-to-read Parker is just right for a hot summer afternoon when a Dashiell Hammett can seem a dash dense.
Christian Science Monitor
What if Spenser were a woman? What if he were still by turns macho and sensitive, well-connected in both Boston's law community (because he was an ex-cop) and in Boston's underworld (because the ex-husband she'd walked out on were a mob scion who ran some legitimate saloons started with dirty money), great with weapons and wisecracks, but deep-down sententious and, yes, wise as ever? Chances are he'd be just as potent a fantasy as a woman, but more convincing than when he was a manand chances are he'd walk and talk just like Sunny Randall, the painter/private eye politically connected banker Brock Patton and his well-groomed wife Betty call when their daughter Millicent, 15, runs away from home. Finding a runaway who must be turning tricks on Boston's streets to survive is no problem, Sunny soon realizes; the problem is figuring out what to do with a runaway who doesn't want to go home, identifying the people she's afraid of, and protecting her from them when every promising lead she gets about how to keep them away from Sunny turns up dead. Fans of Spenser (Hush Money, p. 108, etc.) will be happy to know that Sunny, who doesn't mind fighting back hard, takes her grievances all the way to the top en route to revelations that make her feel "as if I'd spent my life in a convent and was just emerging." Come to think of it, Sunny's also just like Helen Hunt, who'll be playing her in the movie scheduled for shooting next year. Nice, huh? (Film rights to Helen Hunt, Book-of-the-Month Club main selection; author tour)
Read an Excerpt
One of the good things about being a woman in my profession is that there's not many of us, so there's a lot of work available. One of the bad things is figuring out where to carry the gun. When I started as a cop I simply carried the department-issue 9-mm on my gun belt like everyone else. But when I was promoted to detective second grade and was working plainclothes, my problems began. The guys wore their guns on their belts under a jacket, or they hung their shirt out over it. I didn't own a belt that would support the weight of a handgun. Some of them wore a small piece in an ankle holster. But I am 5'6" and 115 pounds, and wearing anything bigger than an ankle bracelet makes me walk as though I were injured. I also like to wear skirts sometimes and skirt-with-ankle-holster is just not a good look, however carefully coordinated. A shoulder holster is uncomfortable, and looks terrible under clothes. Carrying the thing in my purse meant that it would take me fifteen minutes to find it, and unless I was facing a really slow assailant, I would need to get it out quicker than that. My sister Elizabeth suggested that I had plenty of room to carry the gun in my bra. I have never much liked Elizabeth.
At the gun store, the clerk wanted to show me a LadySmith. I declined on principle, and bought a Smith & Wesson .38 Special with a two-inch barrel. With a barrel that short you could probably miss a hippopotamus at thirty feet. But any serious shooting I knew anything about took place at a range of about three feet, and at that range the two-inch barrel was fine. I wore my .38 Special on awider-than-usual leather belt in a speed holster at the small of my back under a jacket.
Which is the way I was wearing it on an early morning at the beginning of September as I drove through a light rain up a winding half-mile driveway in South Natick, dressed to the teeth in a blue pant suit, a white silk tee shirt, a simple gold chain, and a fabulous pair of matching heels. I was calling on a lot of money. The driveway seemed to be made of crushed seashells. There were bright green trees along each side, made even greener by the rain. Flowering shrubs bloomed in serendipitous places among the trees. The whole landscape, refracted slightly by the rain, made me think of Monet. At the last curve in the driveway the trees gave onto a rolling sweep of green lawn, upon which a white house sat like a great gem on a jeweler's pad. The vast front was columned, and the Palladian windows seemed two stories high. The drive widened into a circle in front of the house, and then continued around back where, no doubt, unsightly necessities like the garage were hidden.
As soon as I parked the car a black man wearing a white coat came out of the house and opened the door for me. I handed him one of my business cards.
"Ms. Randall," I said. "For Mr. Patton."
"Yes, ma'am," the black man said. "Mr. Patton is expecting you."
He preceded me to the door and opened it for me. A goodlooking black woman in a little French maid's outfit waited in the absolutely massive front hallway.
"Ms. Randall," the man said and handed the maid my card.
She took it without looking at it and said, "This way, please, Ms. Randall."
The foyer was very air-conditioned, even though the rainy September day was not very hot. The maid walked briskly ahead of me, her heels ringing on the stone floor. If her shoes were as uncomfortable as mine, she was as stoic about it as I was. My heels rang on the stone floor, too. The foyer was decorated with some expensively framed landscape paintings, which were hideous, but probably made up for it by costing a lot. Through the French doors at the far end of the foyer I could see a croquet lawn and, beyond that, a more conventional lawn that sloped down to the river at the far bottom.
The maid opened a door near the end of the foyer and stood aside. I stepped in. The air-conditioning was even more forceful than it had been in the foyer. The room was a man's study, and it absolutely howled of decorator. Bookshelves were filled with leather-bound books artfully arranged. The walls were done in a dark burgundy. The drapes matched the walls but with a golden triangular pattern in them. There was a fireplace that I could have stood upright in on the wall opposite. There was a fire in it. The ceiling was far above my head. There was a massive reddish wooden desk along the left wall of the room with Palladian windows opening behind it. The deep colorful rugs had been woven somewhere in the far east. A huge globe of the world was on its own dark wooden stand near the fireplace. It was lit from within. Above the fireplace was a formal portrait of a good-looking woman with smooth blond hair and the contemptuous smile of a well-fed house cat.
The maid marched across the rug and put my card on the desk and announced, "Ms. Randall."
The man behind the desk said, "Thank you, Billie," and the maid turned and marched out past me and closed the door. The man looked at my card for a little while without picking it up, and then he looked up at me and smiled. It was an effective smile and I could tell that he knew it. The little crinkles at his eyes made him look kind though wise, and the parentheses around his mouth gave him a look of firm resolve.
"Sunny Randall," he said, almost as if he were speaking to himself. Then he rose and came around the desk. He was athletic-looking, taller than my ex-husband, with blue eyes and a healthy outdoor look about him. He put his hand out as he walked across the carpet.
"Brock Patton," he said.
"How very nice to meet you," I said.
He stood quite close to me as we shook hands, which allowed him to tower over me. I didn't step back.
"Where did you get a name like Sunny Randall?" he said.
"From my father," I said. "He was a great football fan and I guess there was some football person with that name."
"You guess? You don't know?"
"I hate football."
He laughed as if I had said something precocious for a little girl. "Well, by God, Sunny Randall, you may just do."
"That's often the case, Mr. Patton."
"Ill bet it is."
Patton went around his desk and sat. I took a seat in front of the desk and crossed my legs and admired my shoes for a moment. Of course they were uncomfortable; they looked great. Patton appeared to admire them, too.
"Well," he said after a time.
"Well," he said again. "I guess there's nothing to do but plunge right in."
"My daughter has run off," he said.
I nodded again.
"She's fifteen," he said.
"My wife and I thought somehow a woman might be the best choice to look for her."
"You're sure she's run away?" I said.
"She ever do this before?"
"Where did she run to before?"
"She didn't get far. Police picked her up hitchhiking with three other kids ... boys. We were able to keep it out of the papers."
"Why does she run away?" I said.
Patton shook his head slowly, and bit his lower lip for a moment. Both movements seemed practiced.
"Teenaged girls," he said.
"I was a teenaged girl," I said.
"And I'll bet a cute one, Sunny."
"Indescribably," I said, "but I didn't run away."
"Well, of course, not all teenagers ..."
"Things all right here?" I said.
"Yes. This is what she ran away from."
"Oh, well, I suppose ... everything is fine here."
I nodded. To my right the fireplace crackled and danced. No heat radiated from it. The air-conditioned room remained cold. The windows fogged with condensation in which the rain streaked little patterns.
"So why did she run away?"
"Really, Sunny," Patton said. "I am trying to decide whether to hire you to find her."
"And I'm trying to decide, Brock, if you do offer me the job, whether I wish to take it."
"Awfully feisty," Patton said, "for someone so attractive."
I decided not to blush prettily. He stood suddenly.
"Do you have a gun, Sunny?"
"Can you shoot it?"
"I'm something of a shooter myself," Patton said. "I'd like to see you shoot. Do you mind walking outside in the rain with me?"
Other than the fact that my hair would get wet and turn into limp corn silk? But there was something interesting happening here. I wasn't sure what it was, but I didn't want to miss it.
"I don't mind," I said.
He took an umbrella from a stand beside the French doors behind his desk. He opened the doors and we went out into the rain. He held the umbrella so that I had to put my arm through his to stay under cover. We walked across the soft wet grass, my heels sinking in uncomfortably. Maybe there should be a new rule about wearing heels when I was working. Maybe the new rule would be, never. On the far side of the croquet lawn, and shielded from it by a grove of trees, was an open shed with a sort of counter across one side and a wood-shingled roof. We went to the shed and under the roof. Patton closed the umbrella. He took a key from his pocket and opened a cabinet under the counter and took out something that looked like a small clay frisbee.
"What have you for a weapon," Patton said.
I took out my .38 Special.
"Well, very quick," he said. "Think you could hit anything with that?"
There was a test going on, and I didn't know quite what was being tested.
"Probably," I said.
He smiled down at me.
"I doubt that you can hit much with that thing," he said.
"What is your plan?" I said.
"I'll toss this in the air, and you put a bullet through it."
If I did that using a handgun with a two-inch barrel it would be by accident. He knew it.
"I'll toss it up here," he said, "it's safe to fire toward the river."
He looked at me and raised his eyebrows. I nodded. He smiled as if to himself and stepped out of the shed and tossed the disk maybe thirty feet straight up into the air. I didn't move. The disk hit its zenith and came down and landed softly on the wet grass about eight feet beyond the shed. And lay on its side. I walked out of the shed, and over to the disk, and standing directly above it, I put a bullet through the middle of it from a distance of about eighteen inches. The disk shattered. Patton stared at me.
"I don't need to be able to shoot something falling through the air thirty feet away," I said. "This gun is quite effective at this range, Brock, which is about the only range I'll ever need it for."
I put the gun away. Patton nodded and stared at the disk fragments for a moment or two; then he picked up the umbrella and opened it and handed it to me.
"Come back in," he said. "I'd like you to meet my wife."
Then he walked away bareheaded in the nice rain. I followed him, alone under the umbrella.