In Robert B. Parker's most popular series, an unsolved thirty-year-old-murder draws the victim's daughter out of the shadows for overdue justice-and lures Spenser into his own past, old crimes, and dangerous lives.
About the Author
Date of Birth:September 17, 1932
Date of Death:January 18, 2010
Place of Birth:Springfield, Massachusetts
Place of Death:Cambridge, Massachusetts
Education:B.A. in English, Colby College, 1954; M.A., Ph. D. in English, Boston University, 1957, 1971
Read an Excerpt
It was a late May morning in Boston. I had coffee. I was sitting in my swivel chair, with my feet up, looking out my window at the Back Bay. The lights were on in my office. Outside, the temperature was 53. The sky was low and gray. There was no rain yet, but the air was swollen with it, and I knew it would come. Across Boylston, on the other side of Berkeley Street, I saw Paul Giacomin walking with a dark-haired woman. They stopped at the light and, when it changed, came on across toward my office. They both moved well, like people who'd been trained. I'd have to see her close-up to confirm, but from here I thought the woman looked good. I was pleased to see that Paul was carrying a paper bag. I swiveled my chair back around and, by the time they got up to my office, I was standing in the doorway. Paul smiled and handed me the bag.
"Krispy Kremes?" I said.
"Like always," he said.
I put the bag on my desk and turned back and hugged Paul.
"This is Daryl Silver," Paul said.
"My real name is Gordon," she said. "Silver is my professional name."
We shook hands. Daryl was, in fact, a knockout. Eagle-eye Spenser. I opened the paper bag and took out a cardboard box of donuts.
"They haven't got these yet in Boston," Paul told Daryl. "So whenever I come home, I bring some."
"Will you join me?" I said to Daryl.
"Thanks," she said. "I'd love to."
"That's a major compliment," Paul said to her. "Usually he goes off in a corner and eats them all."
I poured us some coffee. Paul was looking at the picture on top of the file cabinet of Susan, Pearl, and me.
"I'm sorry about Pearl," Paul said.
I shrugged and nodded.
I shrugged and held out the box of donuts.
"Krispy Kreme?" I said.
The rain arrived and released some of the tension in the atmosphere. It rained first in small, incoherent splatters on the window, then more steadily, then hard. It was very dark out, and the lights in my office seemed warm.
"How did it go in Chicago?" I said.
"The play got good notices," Paul said.
"You read them?"
"No. But people tell me."
"You like directing?"
"I think so. But it's my own play. I don't know if I'd want to direct something written by somebody else."
"How's rehearsal going here?"
"We've done the play too often," Paul said. "We're having trouble with our energy."
"And you're in this?" I said to Daryl.
"She's gotten really great reviews," Paul said. "In Chicago, and before that in Louisville."
"I have good lines to speak," she said.
"Well, yeah," Paul said. "There's that."
With the rain falling, the air had loosened. Below my window, most of the cars had their lights on, and the wet pavement shimmered pleasantly. The lights at Boylston Street, diffused by the rain, looked like bright flowers.
"Daryl would like to talk to you about something," Paul said.
"Sure," I said.
Paul looked at her and nodded. She took in a deep breath.
"Twenty-eight years ago my mother was murdered," she said.
After twenty-eight years, "I'm sorry" seemed aimless.
"1974," I said.
"Yes. In September. She was shot down in a bank in Boston, by people robbing it."
"For no good reason."
I nodded again. There was rarely a good reason.
"I want them found."
"I don't blame you," I said. "But why now, after twenty-eight years?"
"I didn't know how to do it or who to ask. Then I met Paul and he told me about you. He said you saved his life."
"He might exaggerate a little," I said.
"He said if they could be found, you could find them."
"He might exaggerate a little."
"We lived in La Jolla," Daryl said. "We were visiting my mother's sister in Boston. My mother just went into the bank to cash some traveler's checks. And they shot her."
"Were you with her?" I said.
"No. The police told me. I was with my aunt."
"How old were you when your mother died?"
"And you still can't let it go," I said.
"I'll never let it go."
I drank some coffee. There were two Krispy Kremes left in the box. I had already eaten one more than either of my guests.
"Either of you want another donut?" I said.
They didn't. I felt the warm pleasure of relief spread through me. I didn't take a donut. I just sipped a little coffee. I didn't want to seem too eager.
"I remember it," I said. "Old Shawmut Bank branch in Audubon Circle. It's a restaurant now."
"Some sort of revolutionary group."
"The Dread Scott Brigade."
"Ah, yes," I said.
"You know of them?"
"Those were heady times," I said, "for groups with funny names."
I reached over casually, as if I weren't even thinking about it, and took one of the donuts.
"I can't pay you very much," she said.
"She can't pay you anything," Paul said.
"Solve a thirty-year-old murder for no money," I said. "How enticing."
Daryl looked down at her hands, folded in her lap.
"I know," she said.
"Awhile ago, I did a thing for Rita Fiore," I said to Paul, "and last week her firm finally got around to paying me."
"Yes," I said. "A lot."
Paul grinned. "Timing is everything," he said.
"Does that mean you'll help me?" Daryl said.
"It does," I said.
--from Back Story: A Spencer Novel by Robert B. Parker, Copyright © 2003 by Robert B. Parker, Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of the Penguin Group (USA), Inc., All Rights Reserved, Reprinted with Permission from the Publisher.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
"The character sketches are Ginsusharp." -Entertainment Weekly
"Spenser's back, just the way we like him." -New York Daily News
Talking with Robert P. Parker
Ransom Notes: How do you feel Spenser has changed most since you started writing about him?
Robert B. Parker: I have been writing about Spenser since the fall of 1971, and his first book (The Godwulf Manuscript) was published in 1973. The question of how he's changed might better be answered by a reader, rather than the writer, but it seems to me that he's become less aggressive, and somewhat kinder, over the last 30 years. I like the chance the series offers for characters to develop and change as I develop and change.
RN: What's the difference between having a P.I. as a main character, as opposed to using a police officer as you do in the Jesse Stone/Paradise books?
RBP: Making Spenser a private eye gives me (and him) more leeway to do things and go places, and it requires less police procedural expertise. While Spenser's being an ex-cop explains how he got to be such a good investigator, the "ex-" part of that allows us to know he is not an organization man, like Jesse.
RN: What made you decide to use the hippie/counterculture connection in Back Story?
RBP: I was a university professor in the '70s and encountered the movement, but I was not terribly engaged by it. Beyond that, I actually have no idea how I decide what Spenser will do next. Automatically eliminated are stories that I don't know enough about (e.g., Spenser will never be involved in a chess tournament, nor will he ever go to Borneo). Whenever the time comes to do another, I think something up.
RN: You've made Spenser's relationship with Susan important to both of them, particularly in this book. What made you decide to include a threat to her in Back Story?
RBP: I have been with the girl of my dreams (Joan Parker) in one capacity or another now, since 1950, and it is the singular experience of my life. This influences me when I write of Susan and Spenser. Susan allows us to gain insights into Spenser's behavior that we couldn't get from him. We see what kind of man he is by seeing how he is capable of feeling about her. That's why jeopardy for Susan adds intensity to a story.
RN: Why did you give Susan a new dog in Back Story, and why was it one that's so like the dog she lost?
RBP: Susan's dog loss and subsequent replacement lets the reader see how Spenser handles the loss. It also mirrors my own loss of Pearl, and her replacement with a new Pearl. My new Pearl is on the back cover of Back Story.
RN: How do you prefer to hear from readers?
RBP: Readers may write me c/o Penguin Putnam. But I must warn them that, in the normal course of things, their letter will be answered with a form letter. Though I am always alerted to anything that requires a specific answer from me, if I read and responded to all my mail I would do little else.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I agree with the other reviewers -- nobody writes like Parker and there are no 'heros' like Spenser. Many writers come close but don't quiet get there. His writing seems so smooth and you just walk into the dialog and feel like you know Susan and Hawk and Vinnie and Quirk and Belson and.....on and on! Lets just believe for more Spenser novels to come soon!!
A quick, engrossing, entertaining read. I have enjoyed all of the Spencer novels and was eagerly awaiting this one. It did not disappoint! Parker always comes through with an engrossing plot and plenty of wise-cracks. I only wish the author could write books as fast as I can read them! I read this book in one sitting because I couldn't put it down!
Boston private investigator Spenser isn¿t an easy touch, but Paul Giacomin is like a son to him so he is willing to go the extra mile to do the man a favor. Paul, a playwright, wants Spenser to help his friend actress Daryl Silver who is starring in his play, to find out who killed her mother Emily in a Boston bank robbery in 1974. Daryl wants closure and Paul pays Spenser¿s fee, a box of Krispy Crème donuts. The Dread Scott Brigade took credit for the killing and the robbery but nobody was ever caught even thought the bank cameras caught their picture. Spenser gets the police file from the Boston Police Department and notices right away that the FBI intelligence report is missing. A little deeper into the investigation Spenser is warned of the case by government agents and is on the hit list of a crime kingpin. Even though it has become very dangerous, Spenser is determined to find out who killed Daryl¿s mother, if only to satisfy his curiosity. It has been thirty years since the first Spencer book THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT was published and the series is still fresh, innovative and very entertaining. The hero might be a little older but he still has the same quirky sense of humor and the ability not to flinch when bullets are coming in his direction. BACK STORY is a fascinating who-done-it that is both believable and somewhat nostalgic. Robert B. Parker shows why his hero has become an American icon. Harriet Klausner
Back Story makes easy summer reading read it and forget it. The dialogue, in an effort to be hip or cool or whatever today's word is, comes off stilted and hackneyed and even worse, as if Parker was trying too hard. Still, it's a pleasant mystery to spend a few hours with, but nothing great.
I am sorry that I read this book, but I went with the rating. It does not measure up to any that I have read previously by this author. I have read about 10 titles. For me this book compares to the Jessie Stone series which I really dislike.
Another Spenser tale with it's cast of 'quirk'y characters. Reading any Parker novel allows you to escape and forget about the world. His dialog between characters (especially Spense and Susan or Spense and Hawk) cannot be matched by anyone. His plot twists are always fun, almost as fun as the whole cast he pens in the story. 'Back Story' added a nice twist and allowed us to see Spenser et al really dig.
It is almost like you are reading about old friends. Parker's character development is among the best in the business. You can't help but like all of them. Even Hawk (who is really my favorite). Spencer is as refreshing today as he was in the first book. Maybe growing older and questioning life more, but still as witty and tough as ever.