The 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).
There is a trick to keeping the faith with an old hero without letting him slip into redundancy, or worse, self-parody, and in Potshot, his 28th novel in the series, Parker shows us exactly how he does it.
New York Times Book Review
Parker still talks the talk.
Newark Star Ledger
Parker is as good as they get.
These things almost write themselves, or so it must seem to Parker. Take the hero, P.I. Spenser, add a few cute scenes with his long-time girlfriend, Susan, and their aging dog, Pearl; add additional scenes with sidekick Hawk and, lately, associates Vinnie Morris, Chollo and Tedy Sapp, among others; add to this a client who needs help and you have the formula for another installment in Parker's long-running series. This time out Spenser and his motley crew head off to Potshot, a small Southwestern town where his client's husband has been murdered, claims the widow, by a gang of ruffians who have the town in their grip. The local law seems ambivalent, so the town leaders ask Spenser to help clean things up. The story ends up being about water and property rights and has the obligatory organized-crime connection. Even though less is not always more, Spenser fans will probably forgive Parker, again, for his brand of minimalist fiction.
Randy Michael Signor
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
HThe Spenser series remains fresh after 28 novels in about 30 years. How does Parker do it? Through recurring characters as alive as any in fiction, and through exceptionally clean, graceful prose that links the novels as surely as do the characters. The author also refreshes himself through other writings the Sunny Randall series, for example, or Gunman's Rhapsody, a tale about Wyatt Earp that Putnam will publish in June. So even when Parker resorts to a bit of gimmickry, as he does here, the vitality of his storytelling prevails. The manifest gimmickry is Boston P.I. Spenser's corralling of sidekicks from previous novels Hawk, of course, but also gay Tedy Sapp from Hugger Mugger, sharpshooter Chollo from Thin Air, Vinnie Morris (from several novels) and a few others to deal with trouble in the Arizona town of Potshot. Spenser is hired by a sexy blonde to look into the shooting death there of her husband, who tangled with an outlaw group known as the Dell, which for years has extorted the citizens of Potshot. There's an eventual shootout, of course (there are enough parallels between this tale and that of Wyatt Earp to guess that Parker's forthcoming Earp novel inspired this one), but not before Spenser digs into the town's secrets, uncovering the expected but in detail, always surprising domestic mayhem and corruption. Genuinely scary villains, sassy dialogue, a deliciously convoluted mystery with roots in the classic western and Parker's pristine way with words result in another memorable case. (Mar.) Forecast: A BOMC Main Selection, this novel will hit the charts, as Spenser novels do. The gimmick involving the many sidekicks should only help sales and may even draw back a few readers who have strayed from the series. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The moral here is to be on your guard when a beautiful damsel in distress, particularly a blonde, comes to you for help. Boston-based private investigator Spenser ends up in potshot, Ariz., a former mining town turned yuppie haven. The place is beset by an extortion gang. The husband of the blonde who hires Spencer has been murdered, supposedly for not paying tribute to the bad guys. Our hero ends up mobilizing z collection of collaborators from mysteries past. (23 Jul 2001)
Spenser, Parker's famous sleuth, goes west to find a murderer and clean up a nest of mountain hoodlums in the 28th installment of the series. After reconnoitering Potshot, AZ, the scene of the crime, he decides he needs reinforcements, so he calls in allies from around the country. These dangerous men a Native American, an African American, a Georgia cracker, a Mafioso, and a homosexual provide much of the book's humor, as Parker has fun with stereotypes, and reader Joe Mantegna has fun with accents. The characterization of women is equally stereotypical, but less amusing to this feminine ear. Parker's women are there to provide sexual tension and little else, a fact that Mantegna emphasizes. He raises the pitch of his voice and slows the pace and successfully insinuates that sexual conquest is uppermost in the characters' minds. This will be popular with Spenser fans and those who don't mind political incorrectness. Juleigh Muirhead Clark, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Lib., Williamsburg, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
She was wearing a straw hat, pulled down over her forehead, a short flowered dress, no stockings and white high heels. A lot of blond hair showed under the hat. Her face was nearly angelic and looked about 15, though the fact that she wore a wedding ring made me skeptical. She marched into my office like someone volunteering for active duty, and sat in one of my client chairs with her feet flat on the floor and her knees together. Nice knees.
"You're Mr. Spenser."
"Lieutenant Samuelson of the Los Angeles Police Department said I should talk to you."
"He's right," I said.
"You know about this already?"
"No," I said. "I just think everybody should talk to me."
"Oh, yes . . . My name is Mary Lou Buckman."
"How do you do Mrs. Buckman."
"Fine, thank you."
She was quiet for a moment, as if she wasn't quite sure what she should do next. I didn't know either, so I sat and waited. Her bare legs were tan. Not tan as if she'd slathered them with oil and baked in the sun-tan as if she'd spent time outdoors in shorts. Her eyes were as big as Susan's, and bright blue.
Finally she said, "I would like to hire you."
"Don't you want to know more than that?"
"I wanted to start on a positive note," I said.
"I don't know if you're serious or if you're laughing at me," she said.
"I'm not always sure myself," I said. "What would you like me to do?"
She took a deep breath.
"I live in a small town in the foothills of the Saw Tooth Mountains, called Potshot. Once it was a rendezvous for mountain men, now it's a western retreat for a lot of people, mostly fromL.A., with money, who've moved there with the idea of getting their lives back into a more fundamental rhythm."
"Back out of all this now too much for us," I said.
"That's a poem or something," she said.
"Frost," I said.
"My husband and I came from Los Angeles. He was a football coach, Fairfax High. We got sick of the life and moved out here, there actually. We run, ran, a little tourist service, take people on horseback into the mountains and back-nothing fancy, day trips, maybe a picnic lunch."
"'We ran a service'?" I said.
"I still run it. My husband is dead."
She said it as calmly as if I'd asked his name. No effect.
"There was always an element to the town," she said. "I suppose you could call it a criminal element-they tended to congregate in the hills above town, a place called the Dell. There's an old mine there that somebody started once, and they never found anything and abandoned it, along with the mine buildings. They are, I suppose, sort of contemporary mountain men, people who made a living from the mountains. You know, fur trapping, hunting, scavenging. I think there are people still looking for gold, or silver, or whatever they think is in there-I don't know anything about mining. Some people have been laid off from the lumber companies, or the strip mines, there's a few left over hippies, and a general assortment of panhandlers and drunks and potheads."
"Which probably interferes with the natural rhythm of it all," I said.
"They were no more bothersome than any fringe people in any place," she said, "until about three years ago."
"What happened three years ago?"
"They got organized," she said. "They became a gang."
"Who organized them?"
"I don't know his real name. He calls himself The Preacher."
"Is he a preacher?"
"I don't know. I think so. I don't think he's being ironic."
"And there's a problem," I said.
"The gang lives off the town. They require the businessmen to pay protection. They use the stores and the restaurants and bars and don't pay. They acquire businesses in town for less than they're worth by driving out the owners. They bully the men. Bother the women."
"We have a police chief. He's a pleasant man. Very likable. But he does nothing. I don't know if he's been bribed, or if he's afraid or both."
"The sheriff's deputies come out, if they're called." she said. "But it's a long way and when they arrive, there are never any witnesses."
"So why are you telling me all this?"
She shifted in her chair, and pulled the hem of her skirt down as if she could cover her knees, which she couldn't. She didn't seem to be wearing any perfume, but she generated a small scent of expensive soap.
"They killed my husband."
"I'm sorry," I said.
"He was in the Marine Corps. He played football in college," she said. "He was a very courageous man. An entirely wonderful man."
Her voice was flat and without inflection, as if she were reciting something she'd memorized.
"He wouldn't pay the Dell any money," she said. "So they killed him."
"No one has come forward."
"How do you know it was the, ah, Dell?" I said.
"They threatened him, if he didn't pay. Who else would it be?"
"And you want me to find out which one did it?"
"Yes and see that they go to jail."
"Can you pay?"
"Yes. Up to a point."
"We'll come in under the point," I said.
She shifted in her chair again and crossed her legs, and rested her folded hands on her thigh.
"Why didn't you just sell and get out?" I said. "Move to Park City or someplace?"
"There's no market for homes anymore. No one wants to move there because of the Dell gang."
"And you knew Samuelson from your L.A. days."
"His son played for Steve . . . my husband."
"And you asked him about getting some help and he suggested me."
"Yes. He said you were good and you'd keep your word."
"A good description," I said.
"He also said you were too sure of yourself. And not as funny as you thought you were."
"Well he's wrong on the last one," I said. "But no need to argue."
"Will you do it?
"Okay," I said.
"Just like that?"
"What are you going to do?"
"Come out and poke around."
"It's a start," I said.