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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
A number of excellent books -- Stephen Hunter's Hot Springs, Elmore Leonard's City Primeval, and George Pelecanos's Right as Rain come immediately to mind -- have successfully bridged the gap between the classic western and the hard-boiled novel of suspense. The latest addition to this genre-bending list is Potshot, the 27th entry in Robert B. Parker's durable, long-running Spenser series. In this one, Parker takes Spenser -- and a supporting contingent of latter-day samurai -- out of the familiar environs of urban New England and turns him loose in the Arizona desert, where he finds himself enmeshed in a modern reenactment of The Magnificent Seven.
The case begins when newly widowed Mary Lou Buckman hires Spenser to investigate her husband's death. Mary Lou lives in the upscale, faux-western town of Potshot, Arizona, which has recently been victimized by gang of extortionists collectively known as the Dell. The members of the Dell -- led by an enigmatic, Lee Van Cleef-like figure called the Preacher -- have been threatening local businessmen and forcing them to pay for "protection." According to Mary Lou, her husband, Steve, refused to pay and was murdered as a result. Spenser, who has always been a sucker for a damsel in distress, heads for Arizona, determined to set things right.
Once in Potshot, Spenser receives a second commission. Local civic leaders offer him an extravagant bounty to drive the Preacher and his cohorts out of town. Spenser contacts Hawk (of course), and a number of hardcases from previous adventures, and prepares to push back against the entrenched forces of the Dell. From this point forward, the two main lines of the story -- the hunt for Steve Buckman's murderer and the proposed assault on the Dell -- intertwine, culminating in a series of unexpected revelations and a climactic, archetypal gunfight.
In Parker's hands, western and detective story come smoothly, seamlessly together. And while the machismo quotient runs a bit too high for my taste -- Spenser and his ad hoc posse spend a bit too much time comparing gun sizes and staging push-up contests -- the narrative unfolds with characteristic wit, brevity, and grace. Parker is one of the most polished stylists working in the field today, and his typical virtues -- crisply described action sequences, understated humor, and drop-dead accurate dialogue -- are on full display once again. Potshot, like so much of Parker's fiction, is effortlessly readable and unfailingly entertaining. It effectively combines the narrative conventions of two different genres and reaffirms its author's position as one of the reigning masters of contemporary suspense. (Bill Sheehan)
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).