Wednesday, January 11, 2012

BAD BUSINESS by Robert B. Parker

“Adele looked at Susan. “What is this?” she said. “Some sort of secret society?”

“Yes,” Susan said. “That’s exactly what it is. Full of unsaid rules and regulations which none of them will even admit to knowing.”

“Is it just the three of them?” Adele said.

No,” Susan said.

She looked at me.

“Who else is a member?” she said.

“This is your hypothesis,” I said.

“Okay,” Susan said. “Well, there’s some cops. Quirk, Belson, a detective named Lee Farrell; the state police person, Healy.”

Susan took a lady-like slug of her Cosmopolitan.

“And a man named Chollo from Los Angeles, and a man named Tedi Sapp from Georgia. Anybody else?”

“Bobby Horse,” I said.

“Oh, yes,” Susan said, “the Native American gentleman.”

“Kiowa,” I said.

“Kiowa, of course,” Susan said.

“Little dude from Vegas,” Vinnie said.

“Bernard J. Fortunato,” I said.

“See,” Susan said, “if you lull them into it they’ll admit to the existence.”

“And what are you?” Adele said, “that you know all this, den mother?”

Susan laughed and had a little more of her pink drink.

“I’m scoring the club president,” she said. “Gives me special status.”


Robert B. Parker’s Bad Business is a prescient book.

First published in 2005, the book deals with a financial scam much like the scams that brought the recent great recession.

Spenser investigates a well-known energy firm. Their company is on the edge of bankruptcy. They hide the company’s financial condition by setting up “special purpose entities,” an accounting trick to make debts look like assets.

Does that sound familiar? It did to me.

I don’t want to make this book sound boring. It is a typical Spenser. It has humor, the usual witty conversation, and many of the usual characters.

The financial scam is just a part of the story. There is also a free-love group tied to the company.

Spenser becomes involved when the wife of one of the executives hires him to do divorce work, to get the goods on her husband and his free-love partner. Never mind that she has the same kind of free-love relationship with the husband of her husband’s lover.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave/ When first we practice to deceive!”

And of course, there are several murders.

For me, this book brought back an unusual memory. My wife and I were on a long trip in the car listening to PBS. They played a covertly-taped phone conversation in which the executives of a well-known energy company were talking about moving energy around. They had electric power California needed. They moved it from one state to another, taking a profit with every move. If I remember right, by the time it got to California it cost sometime like fourteen to twenty times what it had started out to cost. And they had profited every step of the way.

That company finally came under federal scrutiny. The feds convicted one of its main officers of a crime.

The people on the phone were laughing at how they were getting rich. They saw the people they had cheated as rubes.

Like the financial managers who used an unregulated system to take us all for a ride and cause the great recession, they thought their victims were fools.

Parker’s book displays that attitude clearly. These people think they are superior. They belong to clubs were Spenser needs permission every time he enters another elevator.

Common people have lost all control.

So I found this to be a special book indeed, probably one of the two best Spenser books in the series as I’ve read it so far, not counting the first few books where Parker set up the premise and introduced the people.

Various reviewers have had various reactions to Bad Business. My reaction—Robert B. Parker was smarter than I thought. He looked at chicanery in one energy company. Then he wrote a book which foreshadowed later deceptions that could have caused a second great depression. And he did it while he was telling a good story too. 

P.S. Writer's aside. " Never mind that she has the same kind of free-love relationship with the husband of her husband’s lover." Try writing a sentence like that without getting your husbands and wives mixed up!


Anonymous said...

After decades of Susan nibbling at food,I love that she took a "lady-like slug" of her Cosmopolitan. Whatever a lady-like slug may be. Great term, anyway!

Joe Barone said...

I admit that have mixed feelings about the Spenser books. They are so much the same. But they are more readable than anything I read, and I still like the characters.

Anonymous said...

I agree. For me, they are kind of like getting together with old friends. The characters are comfortable and familiar and I never care how many times I reread the same books.

Off topic again, but since your review of Reginald Hill's "Pinch of Snuff", I've been working my way through his books, too. Really enjoying them.


Joe Barone said...

Just to let you know, Reginald Hill died the other day at age 75. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. We still have his books to enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Joe, sad news. But like you say, we still have his books and I am enjoying them.