At the start of the lackluster 38th Spenser novel from late MWA Grand Master Parker, the iconic Boston PI agrees to protect art historian Ashton Prince during the exchange for cash of a rare painting held for ransom, 17th-century Dutch artist Franz Hermenszoon’s Lady with a Finch. When a bomb kills Prince during the botched exchange, Spenser naturally plans to even the score. And naturally, Spenser’s probing--into the painting’s complex history, Prince’s twisted life, the museum that owned the painting--leads to violent reactions. Spenser’s habitual wisecracking often comes across as merely smart-alecky, but as always he backs the attitude with performance. While this crime thriller is short on the kind of grit and character that earned Parker (1932–2010) an Edgar Award and numerous Shamus nominations, fans should still relish this probably final opportunity to enjoy the inimitable Spenser, who made his debut in 1973’s The Godwulf Manuscript. (Oct.)
Parker died this past January, making this the last in his long-running and popular series featuring wisecracking Boston PI Spenser. Like the series debut, The Godwulf Manuscript, the plot involves a missing artifact, a murder, and Spenser's determination to do the job he set out to do no matter who or what stands in his way. The missing artifact here is a stolen painting, and Spenser's client is an art professor who wants protection while ransoming it. Things, of course, are not quite what they seem, and the path to resolution is full of twists, betrayals, secrets, and good intentions gone horribly wrong. Parker's dialog is as sharp and snappy as ever. VERDICT Fans of the series and of mystery fiction in general will enjoy one last outing with Spenser, longtime lover Susan, and Pearl the Wonder Dog. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/10.]—Bradley A. Scott, Texas A&M Univ., Corpus Christi
Spenser's last case.
The opening sequence, in which Spenser (The Professional,2009, etc.)makes a monkey out of a college professor who clearly needs him more than Spenser needs the professor, hearkens back to the Boston private eye's very first case (The Godwulf Manuscript, 1973). This time, however, Parker adds a pleasing twist. As forensic art consultant and all-around twit Dr. Ashton Prince returns from his rendezvous with the thieves ransoming the 17th-century canvas Lady with a Finch to the waiting Spenser, whom he'd hired to accompany him on the drop-off, the package he's picked up in exchange for the ransom explodes, killing him. Although Spenserfeels honor-bound to avenge his late client, nobody wants his help or is interested in talking to him, and the more he finds out about Prince, the less he likes him. Working patiently, Spenser breaks down the defenses of insurance-resolution specialist Winifred Minor; her daughter Missy, one of the many coeds Prince seems to have pursued; Prince's daffy widow, oh-so-sensitive poet Rosalind Wellington; and Morton Lloyd, attorney to the museum from which the painting was stolen. Only after several more people have died does he realize how tenaciously the painted lady's provenance is entangled in the Holocaust, so that the case becomes, as he tells his ladylove Dr. Susan Silverman, "the most Jewish thing I've ever dealt with."
The yawning gap between the customary attitudinizing and the serious issues the tale raises make this far from Spenser's finest hour, yet one no serious fan will think of missing.