“Whose picture is on a one-hundred dollar bill?” I said.
“Nelson Rockefeller.” [Susan said]
“Where would you like to go to lunch?”
“You shouldn’t have shown me the money. I was going to settle for Ugi’s steak and onion subs. Now I’m thinking about Pier 4.”
“Pier 4 it is…Come on, we’ll go back to my place and suit up.”
“When you get a client,” Susan said, “you galvanize into action, don’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am. I move immediately to the nearest restaurant.”
Harv Shepard’s wife walked out on him and he wants Spenser to find her and bring her home. Spenser agrees to the first part of that—he’ll find her, make sure she’s healthy and under no duress, but he won’t force her to come home. Shepard agrees to that, so Spenser starts digging. It takes him practically no time at all to discover that their relationship wasn’t as good as Shepard insists it was (Shepard doesn’t seem to find his wife leaving home to be a big clue)—and that Pam herself might not be as happy or well-adjusted as she let on.
It doesn’t take Spenser that long at all to find Pam and see that she’s okay. She’s not that interested in coming home, and Spenser’s prepared to let it lie like that. But she soon calls Spenser for help—and like the knight errant he is, Spenser obliges. She’s found herself neck-deep in serious legal problems and it’ll take an ingenious plan to get her out of it while not letting criminals get away with anything.
The trickier part of the equation comes from a man called Hawk.* When Spenser first arrives at Shepard’s house,
Shepard appeared from the door past the stairs. With him was a tall black man with a bald head and high cheekbones. He had on a powder blue leisure suite and a pink silk shirt with a big collar. The shirt was unbuttoned to the waist and the chest and stomach that showed were hard and unadorned as ebony. He took a pair of sunglasses from the breast pocket of the jacket and put them on, he stared at me over their rims until very slowly the lenses covered his eyes and he started at me through them.
* Yeah, I couldn’t resist.
As Spenser soon tells Shepard, Hawk’s presence means that he’s got bigger problems than a missing wife. Shepard denies it, but Spenser believes he’s into a loan shark and/or mobster for a pretty large sum and is behind on payments. It won’t be long until Hawk is hurting Shepard—if not more than that—in order to get this money.
Hawk and Spenser go far back—they used to fight on the same heavyweight card and come into frequent contact in their current occupations. Hawk’s a freelancer and is one of the best in Boston. He’s not a good guy, but he has a code. There’s a mutual respect between the two and Spenser is quick to defend Hawk against Shepard’s racial slurs. Hawk as a character deserves more space than I’m giving him at the moment—but that’s all I can do for now. I’ll probably find a way to give him a few paragraphs in the post about the next book.
So not only does Spenser need to get Pam out of her legal mess, he takes on getting Harv out of his illegal mess. He does so through a complicated set-up assisted by a couple of the funniest cops I remember reading about. It’s a shame that neither of these reappear the way that Healy, Belson and Quirk do (although, it’d be hard to take them seriously). It’s hard to explain, you’ll need to read them for yourselves.
Toward the end of the previous book, Mortal Stakes it looked like Spenser is getting more serious about Susan and less serious about his other dating relationship with Brenda Loring—there’s a reference to Brenda early on in this book*, but by the end, Susan and Spenser are as close to married as they’re ever going to get—essentially pledging monogamy without the legal/religious contract. This is huge for the genre at the time—and bigger for the character.
* Unless I’m mistaken, that’s the last reference to Brenda outside of a short story in the series. [Update: She’s mentioned in the next book, so I read the reference about 5 hours after I published this]
While Spenser tries to extricate the Shepards from the trouble they’ve found themselves in—and hopefully provide them with the opportunity to work on their marriage (at least enough to make a calm decision about its fate), Parker uses the Shepards as well as Susan and Spenser to discuss second-wave feminism in a somewhat abstract fashion, but also in concrete terms as it applies to each of these couples. Parker takes the opportunity to opine a bit on isms and how they tend to swallow the individual—where he prefers to consider such topics (this is assuming that Spenser and Parker align on these ideas, but there’s no reason to suspect they don’t). The reader may not agree with them any of the views they read in these pages, but they’re fairly well reasoned.
In Promised Land, we meet Hawk and Susan and Spenser become permanent (for lack of a better term). These two things are the final pieces to come into place as the foundation for the series—they’ll take a more final form in the next book, but we have them all now. Every other book in the series is built on what’s introduced up to this point and finalized in The Judas Goat. For a series that’s lasted 44 years after the publication of this one, that’s quite the accomplishment.
A significant portion of American Detective Fiction since then will be shaped by this, too—people will be reacting against this set-up or putting their series in a similar vein. Personally, I’ll get to the point (eventually) where Susan stops adding anything to the series. But I’ve yet to tire of Hawk. He may be the kind of guy who should spend the rest of his life behind bars, but he’s also the kind of character than you can’t help but love when he shows up on the page. We’ll revisit Hawk (and his contribution to the series) later, but for now, it’s just good to sit back and enjoy him.
You take all the above, mix them together—and you’ve got a true classic. Parker looks at marriage and feminism—and, of course, honor—while his protagonist matches wits with a mobster. Told with Parker’s trademark style and wit. Few things are as good as that—fewer yet are better.
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