Sunday, September 26, 2010
PLAYMATES by Robert B. Parker
Robert B. Parker is good at what I would call the "Rock-and-a-Hard-Place" plot. There's nothing to solving the mystery. It starts out solved except for establishing a few relationships, except for learning how the scam came to be. But there's no way for there to be a happy ending.
In Playmates, a young college basketball player is fixing games. He is in the pocket of brutal mobsters, though he doesn't know it. He can't read. His only assets are his incredible basketball skills and his girlfriend (the strongest, best-drawn character in the book).
Spenser tries to find a way to get the young basketball player out of the clutches of the mob without ruining the young man's up and coming pro career or without Spenser and Hawk having to kill the mobsters. And as is often the case, Spenser screws it up.
A blurb on the front of this book had the New York Times saying, "The best Spenser mystery novel in many years."
I saw it in another way. The story reveals the weaknesses in Spenser's view of the detective as deus-ex-machina, the one who wants to pull all the strings from above and make everything right.
Spenser's way gets, not an innocent man, but a naive young man, killed.
Hawk would go at it another way. He'd murder the bad guys and go on. At one point, after arguing with Spenser about just killing the crooks, Hawk tells Susan, "Don't make much difference to me, sweet potato. Kill them, interact with them, tell them about God. Whatever works. Or make you happy."
Hawk loves Susan. I might wonder why in the world he would call her "sweet potato," but Susan seems to understand. Hawk would kill the bad guys and save the good guys. Plain and simple.
But Spenser has to manipulate, try to make everything come out right. And things go wrong.
So, I didn't see this as the "best Spenser mystery novel in many years." I saw it as a book that illustrates the weakness in the Spenser character. In Early Autumn, Spenser tells a woman, "I cannot let some gorilla shoot at you. I cannot. It's against the rules."
If I recall correctly (and I'm not the best at remembering books I've read, even a couple of months ago), that woman ended up being killed.
In any case, there is a fundamental weakness in the Spenser character. He sees himself as God. And people get killed because of it.