Tuesday, August 24, 2010

CRIMSON JOY by Robert B. Parker

You can't outrun Spenser twice.

In Crimson Joy, Quirk asks Spenser to help him as they track down a serial murderer. 

The man kills middle-aged black women and leaves a rose at the scene of the crime.  He kills them in an especially brutal way.  His murders express a pathology the full extent of which Parker doesn't reveal until the very end of the book.

And Susan becomes intimately involved, closely threatened.

The story has two running chase scenes, one in which the murderer, a former track star, outruns Spenser, and another, at the end of the book, where the outcome is different.

I have two responses to the Spenser stories, and to this one in particular.

Some of them are too psychological for me. Others might find these among Parker's best stories. For me, the long talks about psychology bog the story down.

But Parker is the master of the straight-through story. 

I had just finished reading two books with various points of view, even points of view which jump around in time, something you see a lot in books nowadays.  And I had put aside a third book of the same sort. 

I went back to Spenser before I intended to because I was looking for a straight-through story.

This is a bit of an exception.  There are a few sections in which we go into the mind of the killer, but they are few. They don't get in the way.  They add to the story.

And in a way, some of the psychological talk led me to think. 

At one point, after a long psychological analysis of whether pathological murderers can be cured, Susan says, "The other thing that enters into the question of cure is, of course, the severity of what he does.  If his pathology manifested itself by, say, stealing pantyhose off the clothesline, maybe you could say, yes, he can be cured.  Because if you're wrong, the consequences are trivial. But how can anyone certify that when released he will not murder someone? I certainly cannot."

Those words set me thinking of a whole list of murderers or attempted murderers.  Should we ever release people who have attacked presidents, killed rock stars, or blown up innocent airline passengers?

I found myself thinking, "Susan is right. 'Cure' or not, other circumstances or not, some people should never be let out of jail.  Society has a right to expect that."

So this was, for me, another good Parker book.  It wasn't my favorite, but it was especially what I was looking for after having read or tried to read several modern stories told from a zillion points of view.

We've all heard that a good magician makes difficult illusions look easy.  Parker does that too.  There might not be anything much harder to write than an interesting, logical story with straight-through narration. Parker writes such books and writes them well.

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