Wednesday, April 27, 2011
SMALL VICES by Robert B. Parker
Sometimes there is little distance between good and evil.
For me, Robert B. Parker's Small Vices is one of the more memorable books in the series so far.
Strong heroes require strong adversaries. Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. Carella and the Deaf Man. Spenser and the Gray Man.
Spenser's lawyer friend Rita Fiore hires Spenser to investigate what a member of her law firm sees as a wrongful murder conviction. It is not that the man convicted is a good man. He is a violent man who, if set free, will surely commit another terrible crime and go back to prison.
It is just that a young lawyer in Fiore's firm is sure the jury convicted the man because he was a convenient black person on whom to lay the blame and because she, his lawyer, was incompetent.
So Spenser, being Spenser, takes on the case to free a dangerous convict or at least to determine whether he should be freed.
Along the way, Spenser comes across a rich family, a rather clumsy cover up, and the Gray Man, a stone-cold killer, an even more dangerous murderer than Hawk would be.
The Gray Man wins the first round of the battle, almost killing Spenser and forcing Spenser, Susan, and Hawk to hide for a year.
Even when Spenser has come back (after gruesome rehabilitation), he is changed.
In the end, everyone at the heart of the story is tainted with evil. There is little right or wrong. There is just the code.
Spenser wins the second round but, for reasons you can read about, Spenser lets the Gray Man go knowing the Gray Man will come back and try to kill him on another day. Spenser has given his word, and Spenser keeps his word.
The rich people have influential lawyers who will get them off, probably with little punishment. Their lives have been destroyed, but still, they will get off easy.
In this book, it is not the plot that matters. It is the people, who they are and what they do when they have no good choices.
No one is on the right side of all of this. Even the relationship between Spenser and Susan changes because of all that happens. They are still together, still in love in that peculiar way that only Spenser and Susan can be in love, but things are different.
Small Vices makes it clear that the Spenser code often doesn't have to do with what is clearly right and wrong, or in a way, with what is clearly good and evil. It has to do with keeping your word, being who it is you say you are, living to fight another day, even if that means you will again face the most dangerous adversary you have so far faced.
Sometimes I thought this book was going in a direction which made the whole thing too easy. Spenser overcomes the Gray Man fairly easily in the second round. But the book makes it clear that the second round is not the last round. Without doubt, there is more to come.
PS If you want to make a comment, I'd be interested in seeing your list of the greatest villains in mystery story history.