Sunday, July 17, 2011

HUSH MONEY by Robert B. Parker



In Robert B. Parker’s Hush Money (26th in the series), Spenser takes on two pro bono cases, one for Susan and one for Hawk.

Hawk’s case is, of all things, an investigation into a college professor being denied tenure.  A majority on the tenure committee believe the man's homosexual relationship with a student led to the student’s suicide.  Spenser’s investigation shows that there was no sexual relationship between the professor (who is not gay) and the student and that the "suicide" is a murder.

Hawk is a friend of the professor’s father, a boxing trainer.  That character, the boxing trainer, was, for me, the most real person in the book.

Susan’s case involves stalking.  A former boyfriend is stalking one of Susan “friends,” and a sad friend she is.  She fixates on men, after a while including Spenser.  She has thrown over her husband for a married man who then dropped her because she became available for marriage. 

And the story goes from there.

I still like the Spenser books, but I have to admit that, at this point, much of Parker’s writing is stylized, almost formulaic. 

In one scene, Spenser and Hawk are in Spenser’s office talking about how they need to go to Beecham, Maine, to follow a lead.  At 3:00 a.m. or so that morning, someone blew up Spenser’s car.

Now, six black-suited Caucasian thugs march in to Spenser’s office and close the door.  Spenser and Hawk banter with them about how Spenser must have failed to take back his overdue library books.  It is the usual Spenser dialogue.  Then—

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“‘You are to stay entirely away from Amir Abdullah,’ [Horn Rims, the leader, said.]  ‘If you fail to comply you will be incinerated as was your car.’

“‘How come?” I said.

“‘You’ve been informed,’ Horn Rims said.  ‘Your Negro friend as well.’

“‘You guys associated with Last Stand Systems?’ I said.

“One of the guys in the back opened my door, and four of them marched out.  Horn Rims and his partner marched out after them.  At the door, Horn Rims’ partner turned and aimed a semiautomatic pistol with silencer.  He squeezed off three rounds; each shot broke one of the three coffee cups that were lined up on the file cabinet about a foot from Hawk.  Hawk never moved.  The gun disappeared.  The door closed.  We were left with the silence and the smell of the gunfire.

“Hawk looked at the remains of the four coffee cups.

“‘Guy can shoot,’ Hawk said.

“‘Yes, my Negro friend but is he a nice person?’ I said.”

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To me, Parker wrote that scene for the banter.  I laughed at the dialogue, but I didn’t believe our heroes were at risk.  Spenser and the others are more predictable cardboard heroes than they were at the beginning.

I still enjoy the books.  They are humorous quick reading.  But, to me, at this stage in the series, the main characters (Spenser, Susan, and Hawk) are less interesting than they were in the beginning.

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One other comment about the book:  It deals with women and homosexuals in a way that bothered me.  They were more like cardboard types who served the purpose of the story than they were real people who deserve respect.  

Also, Hush Money effectively skewers pompous college professors.  It doesn’t skewer all professors, just the pompous ones.

3 comments:

Joe Barone said...

I corrected an error in what I wrote. I had this book listed as the 25th in the series. It is the 26th. I made that correction.

Naomi Johnson said...

I think some writers get boxed in by the success of their own series. The writer may want to take chances and break free of the old formulae, recognizing that he's done all he could with those characters, but the success of the series causes the publisher to keep contracting for that series. And since the writer wants to continue eating and paying his bills, he keeps alive a series that should/could have died gracefully several books past.

Joe Barone said...

Naomi,
I fully agree, except I'm glad the series didn't die earlier. I don't blame Parker for writing these books the way he writes them. I still enjoy reading them. When I am looking for something light to pull back from harder reading, I often go to Spenser.

As I've said before, I greatly admire Robert B. Parker because of the scope of his work. I think the first books in this series were ground breaking.