Pub Day Repost: The K Team by David Rosenfelt: A New PI Trio Takes a Bite Out of Crime

The K Team

The K Team

by David Rosenfelt
Series: The K Team, #1

eARC, 304 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2020

Read: March 13-16, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!


After 20+ books (and counting!) in a series, what’s an author to do? Well, if you have the dog food bills that David Rosenfelt must have (seriously, check out the photos on his website or Facebook page of the dogs he and his wife shelter), you create a spin-off. I found myself comparing the books a lot in the paragraphs that follow—I won’t make a habit out of it as the series progresses, but I kept comparing them as I read, so that’s how I think of the book. I hope it doesn’t get too tiring.

In 2019’s Dachshund Through the Snow, we met Former Paterson NJ police officer Corey Douglas and his German Shepherd partner, Simon Garfunkel. At the end of that novel, Corey had decided to join forces with Laurie and Marcus to form a detective agency. This is their first case—and what a way to start!

Longtime Andy Carpenter antagonist, the harsh, yet fair, Judge Henry Henderson (aka Hatchet) hires the team to look into a blackmailer trying to pressure the judge into something. He doesn’t know what the blackmailer wants yet, but he knows there’s enough to damage (probably fatally!) his career. The arrangement they enter into means that Andy won’t be able to try a case before Hatchet again—which bummed me out, he wasn’t a constant presence in those novels, but a frequent one—probably the only judge’s name I recognized. I enjoyed watching Andy squirm around the judge.

But now, it’s Hatchet’s turn to squirm. The blackmailers (well, potential blackmailers—he’s quick to note they haven’t actually broken the law yet), have some manufactured evidence to make it look like he’s crooked. He’s not, and has enough of a reputation and goodwill to weather the storm. Probably. But the hint of scandal would taint his record and probably force him off the bench.

So, Corey, Laurie, and Marcus get to work—looking into cases the judge presided over and could be alleged to have influenced. Before long, the threats get more real and bodies start appearing (or, disappearing, in some cases). And well, that’s really all I can safely say. But fans of the Andy Carpenter books will be familiar with the way things play out—and new readers will be entertained by it, too.

Marcus doesn’t do much more (especially on the dialogue front) in The K Team than he does in a typical Andy Carpenter book, he’s basically an unintelligible superhuman (yeah, the jokes about the protagonist’s inability to understand him are of the same genus as the ones in the Carpenter novels, but they’re a different species coming from Corey—I was surprised at how refreshing that was). I think he probably gets a little more space devoted to him than he typically gets, but he does basically what we’re used to seeing. There are a couple of exceptions, including what I believe is the longest hand-to-hand fight scene we’ve seen from him.

Even Laurie isn’t featured as much as I expected. Actually, that’s an understatement. I assumed that this would be Laurie’s series with a couple of sidekicks—or maybe an equally Laurie and Corey series with Marcus showing up to do his thing every now and then. Maybe a third person kind of thing alternating between focusing on each character. But no, this is first person from Corey’s POV—so we get a lot of Laurie, but most of what she did was off-screen, only teaming up with Corey for bigger moments or to discuss what they’d done together. It’s not what I expected, but I can live with it (I just wish she’d get to shine a bit more).

So, Corey…we get to know him a bit better here than we did in his first appearance, obviously. He’s single—deliberately—and very devoted to Simon (but not the same way that Andy is to Tara), they worked together and are now shifting to a new career together. Corey’s a bit more willing to leave Simon out of some of the action than say, Bernie Little is (eager, occasionally, for Simon’s safety). He’s a movie buff—a little bit of a nerd about them, it seems—and I look forward to seeing this more. He’s good at his job, still a straight arrow (the kind of cop he was), but is discovering that he’s more willing to color outside the lines than he thought. I’m looking forward to getting to know him better.

The humor is a similar style to the one employed in the Andy Carpenter books, but it’s not Andy’s voice in a different body. Corey is distinctive, but fans of the one will tend to enjoy the other. That’s half the point (maybe 70% of the point) of a spin-off, right? Similar, but not equal—that applies for the voice, the humor, and the story.

If you’ve never read an Andy Carpenter book, don’t worry. Just think of this as the good idea it is—a team of PI’s working together instead of a lone operator with an occasional side-kick. A trio is so rare in the PI fiction biz that I can’t wait to see it at work more in future installments. I enjoyed this enough that I’m ready to read the next two at least. There was so much set-up to The K Team that Rosenfelt almost had to shoe-horn the plot around it. This was a good intro to the series, but I’m looking forward to seeing what Rosenfelt has in store for the team now that he’s been able to establish things.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this.


3.5 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

The K Team by David Rosenfelt: A New PI Trio Takes a Bite Out of Crime

The K Team

The K Team

by David Rosenfelt
Series: The K Team, #1

eARC, 304 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2020

Read: March 13-16, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!


After 20+ books (and counting!) in a series, what’s an author to do? Well, if you have the dog food bills that David Rosenfelt must have (seriously, check out the photos on his website or Facebook page of the dogs he and his wife shelter), you create a spin-off. I found myself comparing the books a lot in the paragraphs that follow—I won’t make a habit out of it as the series progresses, but I kept comparing them as I read, so that’s how I think of the book. I hope it doesn’t get too tiring.

In 2019’s Dachshund Through the Snow, we met Former Paterson NJ police officer Corey Douglas and his German Shepherd partner, Simon Garfunkel. At the end of that novel, Corey had decided to join forces with Laurie and Marcus to form a detective agency. This is their first case—and what a way to start!

Longtime Andy Carpenter antagonist, the harsh, yet fair, Judge Henry Henderson (aka Hatchet) hires the team to look into a blackmailer trying to pressure the judge into something. He doesn’t know what the blackmailer wants yet, but he knows there’s enough to damage (probably fatally!) his career. The arrangement they enter into means that Andy won’t be able to try a case before Hatchet again—which bummed me out, he wasn’t a constant presence in those novels, but a frequent one—probably the only judge’s name I recognized. I enjoyed watching Andy squirm around the judge.

But now, it’s Hatchet’s turn to squirm. The blackmailers (well, potential blackmailers—he’s quick to note they haven’t actually broken the law yet), have some manufactured evidence to make it look like he’s crooked. He’s not, and has enough of a reputation and goodwill to weather the storm. Probably. But the hint of scandal would taint his record and probably force him off the bench.

So, Corey, Laurie, and Marcus get to work—looking into cases the judge presided over and could be alleged to have influenced. Before long, the threats get more real and bodies start appearing (or, disappearing, in some cases). And well, that’s really all I can safely say. But fans of the Andy Carpenter books will be familiar with the way things play out—and new readers will be entertained by it, too.

Marcus doesn’t do much more (especially on the dialogue front) in The K Team than he does in a typical Andy Carpenter book, he’s basically an unintelligible superhuman (yeah, the jokes about the protagonist’s inability to understand him are of the same genus as the ones in the Carpenter novels, but they’re a different species coming from Corey—I was surprised at how refreshing that was). I think he probably gets a little more space devoted to him than he typically gets, but he does basically what we’re used to seeing. There are a couple of exceptions, including what I believe is the longest hand-to-hand fight scene we’ve seen from him.

Even Laurie isn’t featured as much as I expected. Actually, that’s an understatement. I assumed that this would be Laurie’s series with a couple of sidekicks—or maybe an equally Laurie and Corey series with Marcus showing up to do his thing every now and then. Maybe a third person kind of thing alternating between focusing on each character. But no, this is first person from Corey’s POV—so we get a lot of Laurie, but most of what she did was off-screen, only teaming up with Corey for bigger moments or to discuss what they’d done together. It’s not what I expected, but I can live with it (I just wish she’d get to shine a bit more).

So, Corey…we get to know him a bit better here than we did in his first appearance, obviously. He’s single—deliberately—and very devoted to Simon (but not the same way that Andy is to Tara), they worked together and are now shifting to a new career together. Corey’s a bit more willing to leave Simon out of some of the action than say, Bernie Little is (eager, occasionally, for Simon’s safety). He’s a movie buff—a little bit of a nerd about them, it seems—and I look forward to seeing this more. He’s good at his job, still a straight arrow (the kind of cop he was), but is discovering that he’s more willing to color outside the lines than he thought. I’m looking forward to getting to know him better.

The humor is a similar style to the one employed in the Andy Carpenter books, but it’s not Andy’s voice in a different body. Corey is distinctive, but fans of the one will tend to enjoy the other. That’s half the point (maybe 70% of the point) of a spin-off, right? Similar, but not equal—that applies for the voice, the humor, and the story.

If you’ve never read an Andy Carpenter book, don’t worry. Just think of this as the good idea it is—a team of PI’s working together instead of a lone operator with an occasional side-kick. A trio is so rare in the PI fiction biz that I can’t wait to see it at work more in future installments. I enjoyed this enough that I’m ready to read the next two at least. There was so much set-up to The K Team that Rosenfelt almost had to shoe-horn the plot around it. This was a good intro to the series, but I’m looking forward to seeing what Rosenfelt has in store for the team now that he’s been able to establish things.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this.


3.5 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

False Value by Ben Aaronovitch: Peter Grant Gets a New Job and a Great Series Gets Better

False Value

False Value

by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: The Rivers of London, #8

Hardcover, 294 pg.
DAW Books, 2020

Read: February 28-March 3, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

“Somebody else came during the night and magicked them,” I said.

“Is that a real term—’magicked?'” asked Guleed.

“And it’s spelt with a ‘k,’ too,” I said. “But the technical term is actually ‘enchanted.’ Only the trouble with that word is that everyone starts thinking glass slippers and spinning wheels.”

There’s very little that I don’t like in The Rivers of London series, you may have noticed, but the friendship and banter between Peter and DS Sahra Guleed is possibly my favorite part of the books. The way they slip between discussions of magic (or magick) theory, police procedure, family stuff, the cases they’re working without missing a beat—or doing so professionally or like a couple of teenagers having too much fun under the nose of authority figures. It feels real, it feels natural, and it’s fun.

It’s also much more beneficial for each character—and the Queen’s peace—than his friendship with Leslie May.

After the series-altering events of Lies Sleeping, the question most readers had was, “Will the series be any good post-Martin Chorley?” Most were likely like me, with a firm “Very probably. Hope so.” False Value demonstrates that things are just fine without Chorley—better than fine, really (although everyone is dealing with the aftermath of everything he did).

Also, as nice as The October Man was, it’s great to be back with Peter and the rest of the Folly.

Most of the books in this series are about a Wizard-in-Training who happens to be a police officer. This book was a Crime Fiction novel about a guy who happens to be a wizard in training.

With the suspension he received at the end of the last book, and his future with the Police uncertain, Peter Grant goes off in search of a new job. He ends up finding work investigating some internal shenanigans for a tech giant headquartered in London. Peter’s computer-geek gets the chance to shine a bit as well as flexing his investigative muscles.

It’s not long before he discovers the source of the shenanigans, and that’s where things get interesting. The source is associated with The New York Libraries Association, “the militant magical wing of the New York Public Library Services.” Which is one of the American analogues to The Folly (just without the official police sanction). He and his superior are also investigating the company—because they’re convinced that SCC is utilizing magic in a potentially hazardous way, paving the way for something huge. I am beyond curious about the Libraries Association and hope we get to see them in action again soon. The whole thing is ripe with possibilities and it’s going to be great to see it all play out.

If you were to draw a Venn diagram with circles for Charles Babbage/Ada Lovelace, Artificial General Intelligence, and Wizardry—the overlap is where you’d False Value. Who wants more? The mix of contemporary cutting-edge technologies and Newtonian magic is just fantastic.

This all leads up to a wonderfully exciting climactic showdown between Nightingale, Peter and the rest on one side, The Librarians on another, and SCC on the other.

If we act now we might be able to roll them up before they know what’s hit them.”

Nightingale frowned into his teacup.

“Perhaps,” he said.

“What have we got to lose?” I said.

Nightingale looked up and gave me a strange, sad smile.

“Oh, everything, Peter, “he said. “But then such is life.”

Yeah, sure, there’s plenty of things going on with Abigail, Molly, Foxglove, and (of course) a very pregnant Beverly. But I just don’t have the time to talk about it all. I think it’s safe to say that this is the busiest novel in the series with something for every fan (more than one something, too).

We also got to check in with our favorite FBI Agent. She was able to give Peter all sorts of background about SCC and its founder (an American), which proved vital and interesting (she got some information about the Librarians in return). Better yet, some of what she uncovered changed Peter’s understanding of some of what went on in Lies Sleeping (the reader’s understanding, too). I’m betting this will prove to be at the core of the next arc for the series.

So now we have an idea about two groups in the States, German practitioners, ,and then a smattering of some in the UK. I love how they’re all very diverse, while sharing a lot in common.

I stopped short in the first sentence of the book:

My final interview at the Serious Cybernetics Corporation…

Serious Cybernetics Corporation? As in,

The Encyclopedia Galactica defines a robot as a mechanical apparatus designed to do the work of a man. The marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as “Your Plastic Pal Who’s Fun to Be With.” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetic Corporation as “a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes,”

from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. So I thought that Aaronovitch was having a little fun with an in-joke and moved on. But no, it was a theme throughout the entire tech company. HR is referred to as “the Magrathean Ape-Descended Life Form Utilization Service,” and Security (where Peter was applying) is “the Vogon Enforcement Arm.” The book is full of these things, and after page 14, I stopped counting them. There’s so many of these that around page 150, Peter says something about SCC “pushing copyright” after a particularly egregious example. I had a great time with this book anyway, but all this was a thick layer of icing on the cake.

A carefully and intricately plotted main story, some fantastic action scenes, and character growth—coupled with Aaronovitch’s signature style and wit. I just can’t think of anything wrong with this book—this is exactly the kind of book that I want to read.


5 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Top 5 Saturday: Trilogies


The Top 5 Saturday weekly meme was created by Amanda at Devouring Books.

Rules!

  • Share your top 5 books of the current topic—these can be books that you want to read, have read and loved, have read and hated, you can do it any way you want.
  • Tag the original post (This one!)
  • Tag 5 people (I probably won’t do this bit, play along if you want)

This week’s topic is: Trilogies. I immediately wrote down three of these, and then thought a bit and came up with 8 more. I whittled those down to five—the ones that had the biggest impact on me/my development as a reader. I left a lot of good candidates out, but at the end of the day, these are the biggies for me. I’ve read them all multiple times (except #4, honestly—only read that twice), and would gladly do so again tomorrow (well, okay, in three weeks, am too busy in the meantime).


The Foundation Trilogy
by
Isaac Asimov

Hari Seldon, uber-mathematician, creates a new science combining mathematics and social sciences to predict (and shape) how humanity will react to the imminent fall of the Galactic Empire. He uses this science to come up with a way to shape the future, helping humanity survive the challenges on their way. I read this sooo many times in high school—for years it served as the ruler by which I judged all SF. Also, other than his Black Widowers mysteries, my favorite works by Asimov.

Yeah, there were a couple of sequels (not nearly as good) and other related works, but these were a trilogy for so many years, I have no problem ignoring the others.


The Deed of Paksenarrion
by
Elizabeth Moon

Wow. This is just…wow. Rather than submit to the arranged marriage her father has planned, Paksenarrion, takes off and joins the army. Eventually is trained and recognized as a Paladin. A fantastic hero’s journey that I wish I remembered more of. I remember being blown away by it and hating that the trilogy ended.


The Barrytown Trilogy
by
Roddy Doyle

Can I talk about these in less than 1500 words? These books focus on the Rabbitte family in Dublin. The first chronicles the oldest son’s attempts to launch his career as the manager of The Commitments, the second is about the very unplanned pregnancy of the eldest daughter (and her father’s struggle to accept it—followed by his outrageous pride for the kid), and the last focuses on the father’s attempt to provide for his family after he becomes unemployed by opening a chip van (a precursor to today’s food truck obsession). They’re all as funny as you could hope, full of hope, sadness, and love. I’m getting excited just by writing this snipped about them.


The Dragonlance Chronicles
by
Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning were my obsession in eighth grade—one I shared with as many people as I could. I’m pretty sure the fantasy I respond to today is the fruit of these books. And I’m totally okay with that. Say what you will about the quality of these, they hold a special place in my heart (right above the cockles, near the blockage on the right)


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy
by
Douglas Adams

Was there any doubt? I can’t stop talking about Adams/This Trilogy (see my Annual Towel Day posts, for example). From the moment I read the first chapter (three or four times before I moved on to Chapter 2) to the point when I heard the radio series to getting the planet icon tattooed on my arm to today and all points between. This Trilogy has been at or near the top of my list, and will stay there for a long time to come.

I maybe should’ve added Colfer’s 6th volume, but…I decided to go old school.

Top 5 Saturday: Books Inspired by Mythology


The Top 5 Saturday weekly meme was created by Amanda at Devouring Books.

Rules!

  • Share your top 5 books of the current topic—these can be books that you want to read, have read and loved, have read and hated, you can do it any way you want.
  • Tag the original post (This one!)
  • Tag 5 people (I probably won’t do this bit, play along if you want)

This week’s topic is: Books inspired by Mythology. Which you’d think would be super-easy—and it was fairly easy—but coming up with a fifth took a little more work than I expected.


Bad Blood
by
Lucienne Diver

An Urban Fantasy featuring a strong, snarky, female PI who doesn’t believe the family legend that she’s descended from Pan and Medusa. But when Apollo himself shows up to hire her, she starts to come around . . . I admit I don’t remember a lot of this (I read it 7 years ago), but it was one of the first I thought of when I decided to do this list and I do keep asking myself why I never got around to reading the rest of the series.


American Gods
by
Neil Gaiman

Honestly, not my favorite Gaiman (maybe on a second read that’d change). But man, there are passages in this book that are pure magic. Epic in scope, but filled with fantastic characters, and Gaiman’s prose, you can absolutely understand why it’s beloved and so widely-read.


The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
by
Douglas Adams

Unless I read something I cannot recall, this was the first book I read that made use of mythological characters in a contemporary setting. I absolutely loved the idea and wondered why more people didn’t do that. Clearly, they do (just see the rest of this post and the others posting on this theme today), but at the ripe old age of 15, it was revolutionary to me. Odin, Thor, Loki and a few other Norse dignitaries are flitting about London and the area, inflicting damage, killing innocents, and driving nursing home staff crazy. Throw in Dirk Gently and Adams at his best and you have a killer read.


Hunted
by
Kevin Hearne

Members of five (I think) pantheons show up in this book—in what’s probably Hearne’s finest use of them all. A good story for Atticus, Oberon, and Granuaile (Oberon has his best dramatic moment, as I recall) aside from that, but a great way of blending the various pantheons into the Iron Druid’s world. One of my Top 2 in the series.


The Lightning Thief
by
Rick Riordan

How can you have a list like this and not include this book (or one of the legion it spawned)? The book that started a craze and gave Riordan the ability to quit teaching. This set the template for all of Riordan’s myth-inspired books (be it Greek, Roman, Egyptian or Norse mythology) and is just fun (unlike some of the latter books which got a bit preachy and tedious). It’s not quite Potter-level of fame/influence, but it’s the closest we have in the States, a nice collection of kids, a creative way of brining myths to the 21st Century, and a rollicking good time.

Hi Five by Joe Ide: A Criminal for a Client, an Unreliable Witness, and a Larger Number than Usual that Want Him Dead. IQ has his work cut out for him.

Hi Five

Hi Five

Joe Ide
Series: IQ, #4

Hardcover, 339 pg.https://www.mulhollandbooks.com/titles/joe-ide/hi-five/9780316509534/
Mulholland Books, 2020

Read: February 10-16, 2020

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!


Isaiah has tried to move on after the heartbreak of Wrecked, and has a new girlfriend. This is unfortunate for her—not because IQ is a bad boyfriend or anything—it’s just that when a low-life gun dealer needs Isaiah to investigate something for him, he threatens the poor girl to insure that Isaiah will do it.

What he needs Isaiah to do is clear his daughter of murder. She’s the only witness to the event, but can’t give the police (or our hero) much information about it, despite being in the same room as the murder. Why? Well (and this feels like spoiling something, but it’s on the book jacket), she has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)—what we used to call Multiple Personality Disorder—and given the stress and danger presented by a man being shot in her shop, Christina wasn’t “there” for most of what happened. Now, did her father bother mentioning this to Isaiah? Nope. but he thankfully figures that out fairly quickly. So now our intrepid investigator has to look into a murder with an eyewitness/prime suspect who didn’t see anything, and who can’t convince anyone who did see something to say something—and if he doesn’t succeed, someone he cares about will pay the penalty (and he assumes he’ll pay, too).

This is such a fantastic idea for a murder case—it could easily be a sloppily executed idea, but if someone does their homework and does a responsible job depicting DID, this is a wonderful fodder for drama. Please, if there are other examples of mystery writers doing this, fill up the comments with titles. I’d love to read other versions of this—and can’t believe that Ide’s the first to do this.

Most authors would be content to fully develop this idea and run with it for the whole novel. But not Ide. In fact, as interesting as it is, the murder case is not the most interesting thing about Hi Five. I’m pretty sure that’s impressive. To take a concept like that and say, “well, sure, but what’s important is the trouble that Isaiah finds himself in because of the investigation.” That’s bad enough, but Isaiah has recently run afoul of a gang of white supremacists after gang violence has hit someone that Isaiah and Dodson (particularly Dodson) respect and admire.

Oh, and Grace is back.

Ide also finds a way to work in some lighter stories and even a little sweetness. And the book never feels crowded, and everything gets dealt with in the space it needs. Sure, I’d have preferred to spend more time dealing with Christina and her “alters,” but that’s a personal taste thing. I’m a sucker for a good DID story. But what Ide wanted to focus on justifies cutting that storyline some of the space I’d prefer it get.

The tension is high and Isaiah has never seemed more human and fallible (including when he was being waterboarded because of some foolish moves).

Some of the reviews I’ve read about this book seem to think that Ide’s wrapping up the series here. I can see why they’d say that, Hi Five could certainly serve as a fitting end to the series. but it seems to e that Ide has more he wants to say. The way he left things with Isaiah points to a triumphant return. Also, toward the end of the novel, something pretty significant happens to Deondra and I just don’t see Ide leaving things where he did and just walking away—the scene is extraneous unless he’s coming back to follow up on it. I hope I’m reading things right, but if I’m not, this is a solid way to go out.

This is not my favorite of the series, but it is so, so good, that it doesn’t bother me too much. It’s just a pleasure to be back in this prose, in this world, with most of these characters. A great mystery (with a better hook), some great character development, a client you can’t help but loathe—but a subject that you’ll pull for (and want to see more of). Hi Five is just one more proof that Joe Ide is one of the best writers in the genre right now. This is a decent entry to start with, but you’d be better off starting with IQ. But honestly, just grab the nearest book by Ide and enjoy.


4 Stars

2020 Library Love Challenge
This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Classic Spenser: The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker

Classic Spenser

The Godwulf Manuscript

The Godwulf Manuscript

by Robert B. Parker
Series: Spenser, #1

Mass Market Paperback, 204 pg.
Dell, 1973

Read: January 25-27, 2020

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Driving back to Boston, I thought about my two retainers in the same week. Maybe I’d buy a yacht. On the other hand maybe it would be better to get the tear in my convertible roof fixed. The tape leaked.

I came to this series about thirteen (possibly fourteen) years late, but to be fair, I would have been thirteen (possibly fourteen) when I started reading it. I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate Spenser without having spent some time with Leroy Brown, Jupiter Jones/Peter Crenshaw/Bob Andrews, Tabitha-Ruth Wexler and others (as I’ve invoked Brown, I hope I remember to draw a line between Sally Kimball and Spenser’s version when I discuss Promised Land). The Godwulf Manuscript wasn’t the first novel I read in the series, I’m going to guess I’d read three or four others before I found this in a used book store. I did find, I now know, a copy with the original cover (as seen above). A year or two later, I loaned it to a friend who proceeded to lose it. I got over it (probably because I didn’t care about things like early editions then) and despite losing that copy, that friend later became my first college roommate, and I didn’t kill him in his sleep for it. Not even once.

That excursus down memory lane means nothing to you, but I put it there in case that friend reads this post. I hope he remembers the Klingon proverb, bortaS bIr jablu’DI’ reH QaQqu’ nay’.

I’ll hold off on talking more about my background with this series for now, but the fact I’ve been reading, and re-reading, and re-re-reading, and re-re-re-reading these books since 1986 (possibly 1987) probably gives you a pretty good idea what I think of them. I could probably write lengthy posts on the first twenty novels in this series without reading them again—but where would be the fun in that? Of the twelve Spenser novels I’ll be revisiting this year, this one is in my bottom two and I’ve read it at least fifteen times, and I don’t see me stopping reading it anytime until I start sleeping the big sleep.

Yeah, that was a purposeful Raymond Chandler allusion. Why? Because this whole novel is a giant Chandler allusion*. From naming his main character after a British poet; to Spener’s attitude, demeanor, voice, etc.; to the opening paragraphs; and so, so much more this whole book screams Parker’s debt to and affection for Raymond Chandler. Spenser as a Shadow of Philip Marlowe will ebb and flow over the years, but I don’t think it’s ever more pronounced than it is in these pages.

* Yeah, there are other influences afoot in these pages, I realize. But Chandler is the primary influence, and this isn’t a dissertation. I don’t have the time to be exhaustive, I have at least 9 other posts I want to complete this week and if I don’t cut a corner or two, I won’t be able to get to them.

So what are these two retainers mentioned above? The first comes from an unnamed university that bears a striking resemblance to Northeastern (Parker’s employer when this was released). An illuminated manuscript has been stolen and is being held for ransom. The problem? (or at least one of them) The University doesn’t have the kind of cash the ‘script-nappers want. They do have a suspect, however, a radical political group on campus: SCACE (Student Committee Against Capitalist Exploitation). Catchy, eh? Spenser starts looking into the group, focusing on a couple of the leaders.

Within a few hours, one of those leaders is dead and another is the prime suspect for the murder. She’d called Spenser for help right after the murder, and he believes her (for compelling reasons you should read for yourself). This leads to the second retainer, her father—a pretty successful capitalist, it should be noted—hires Spenser to clear her for the murder.

The hunt for the manuscript and the murder will end up involving a cult, a couple of very dysfunctional marriages, drug dealing, a couple of hitmen, and a mob boss. Basically, Spenser has his hands full.

While there are many aspects of this novel that Parker will tweak for future installments, there’s a lot that he establishes here that he’ll revisit. Spenser gets fired because of his attitude (as demonstrated by his ignoring—rightly—the University’s insistence that he leave faculty alone), his being fired doesn’t stop him from sticking with the job, however. There’s a shootout in an unpopulated area near Boston*. Spenser cooks a pretty decent meal for himself (not quite Fritz Brenner’s level, but close enough for a guy cooking for one), and proves himself more literate than anyone looking at him would assume. The climactic fight will be echoed in upcoming books, featuring someone who has no business fighting anyone taking on a hardened criminal of sorts solely on the basis of love and desperation. Parker does get away from this, which is good—if only for the sake of variety—but man, I love it every time he uses this.

* My knowledge of Massachusetts geography comes wholly from the novels of Parker, William Tapply and Dennis Lehane, so I can’t be more specific than “unpopulated”.

Spenser physically roughs up a couple of college kids and verbally pushes around an older man. Each incident is followed by Spenser berating himself. This is the kind of thing that you don’t see a whole lot in the hardboiled world before Spenser’s debut. Parker will do a more subtle job in the future of showing that while Spenser will resort to violence when necessary, he doesn’t relish it (except when he knows the recipient is guilty of something) and regrets the act. But here, it’s pretty clear that Parker’s trying to show that Spenser isn’t unfeeling about acts of aggression.

There are things that show up here that will disappear—Spenser sleeps with two different women and is fairly casual about it. He’ll later become a paragon of monogamy, but that’s a couple of years away. Still, he’s less of a player next time we see him. He’s also a bit more antagonistic to most of the police that he encounters than he’ll be in books to come. Some of that is a shift in Spenser, some of that is a growth in the relationships he develops with individual members of BPD.

The main thing that sticks around in the future are some of the characters—we meet people here that Spenser still knows and interacts with on a regular basis. Spenser flirts a lot with the secretary for the head of Campus Security, and we’ll see her later. A reporter for the Campus newspaper gives Spenser a lot of help and information about various people/groups on campus, her name is Iris Milford and when Ace Atkins brought her back in 2015, I may have let out an audible whoop. We meet Spenser’s lawyer, Vince Haller, who not only helps Spenser, but the college student being framed. Haller will eventually disappear from the stage (I realize as I write this), but he’s a frequent presence for a long time to come.

But the three big recurring characters are Lt. Martin Quirk, Sgt. Frank Belson and Joe Broz. Spenser and Belson (a homicide detective) have some history and clearly respect (and even like) each other. Belson’s smart, appears lazy (appears), perpetually has a cheap cigar in his mouth (I think that’s a characteristic in this novel, if not, it will be next time we see him). Belson’s superior is Lt. Quirk. Quirk is a very no-nonsense cop, he’s driven, almost humorless, and has no use for private investigators, but sees a little value in Spenser and begins to trust him a bit over the course of this novel. Joe Broz, on the other hand, couldn’t be less a homicide detective if he tried—you could argue Broz (and his employees) are responsible for the continued careers for a handful of homicide detectives. He’s a crime boss of some notoriety and viciousness. At this point (and for some time to come), he’s the most powerful mobster in Boston (although we will soon meet competition). Spenser will be a thorn in Broz’s side for a long, long time.

It occurs to me that I haven’t described Spenser himself. He’s a former professional boxer (not that good, but he did get his nose broken by someone who was very good); a Korean War vet; a former Massachusetts State Trooper, assigned to the DA’s office in a County that fluctuates depending on Parker’s memory; and now a Private Investigator. He’s very literate, he likes to cook (as I mentioned), he drinks a lot, thinks he’s funnier than anyone else does (except the readers of the novels)—which brings him a lot of grief. We don’t get a lot of insight into it in this novel, but honor’s very important to him and it will influence the way he deals with clients, victims, criminals and everyone else along the way. He’s very much a latter-day knight.

I’m not sure that the mystery is all that clever, but the strength of this book is riding along with Spenser as he goes around annoying people until someone does something that he can catch them at (a strategy he’ll spell out in the future, but follows here). I love the voice, I enjoy the character, and watching him go about his business is a pure joy for me.

I haven’t discussed the action/fight scenes yet, and Parker’s approach to them (particularly in the first 15-20 of the series) has always greatly appealed to me. Parker has to address violence, given his chosen genre–and Spenser is a violent man. But in months to come, we see the character address that in such a way to give us insight into why Parker uses it the way he does (I think). So I’ll put a pin in this for now (also, this is long-winded enough at this point that I’ll take any excuse to wrap things up).

I, obviously, highly recommend this book—but I’ll be the first to say that the second is much better and the fourth and fifth in this series are better yet. You don’t have to start with this one for future books to make sense—in fact, you might appreciate Spenser more if you start later on. But for my money, you’re not likely to find many characters as compelling in contemporary (or at least late-Twentieth Century) hardboiled fiction. For introducing the character to the world/the world to the character of Spenser, The Godwulf Manuscript is well-worth the time. Even if it wasn’t the start of something big, it’s still entertaining enough for me to encourage you to read it.

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