Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mortal Stakes, by Robert B. Parker

Boston Red Sox management has heard rumors that ace pitcher Marty Rabb is purposely throwing games.  They hire Boston-based private eye Spenser to quietly investigate the allegations so they can handle the matter before it becomes a PR nightmare.  What Spenser uncovers is a years-old web of sex, lies, and blackmail.

This book, the third in the series, served as my introduction to Spenser.  Mortal Stakes had been on my radar for a couple years, but it took the death Robert B. Parker to finally buy and read it.  I especially liked the baseball setting (added bonus since I started reading it the first week of the season) and Parker's clean prose.  The Spenser series has been one of the most popular since the character's introduction in the 1970's.  Parker obviously borrowed heavily from his predecessors (Chandler and Macdonald) and influenced the entire generation of PI writers that has come since.  Probably because of this, I was a bit underwhelmed by the novel.

That is, however, until we get to the end.  After disposing of the bad guys and saving his clients, Spenser goes on a date with girlfriend Susan Silverman.  Here they have a discussion about the "jock ethic" vs the code of the pro.  The jock ethic is the system of behavior that drives people to follow the rules even if losing is the result.  The code of the pro demands that a person ignore idealism and do what needs to be done in order to win.  This philosophical discussion and the introspective moment of Spenser trying to figure out where he fits in is a moment not found with White Knight Marlowe or even in the psychoanalysis of Archer.  This, I thought, is what sets Spenser apart from the crowd.

With that said, I'm not going to run out tomorrow and pick up the rest of the books in the series.  But Spenser is a character I look forward to returning to in the not too distant future.

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