School Days: a sleuth’s story

If you’re already a fan of Rober B Parker’s Spenser novels you will definitely be familiar with the snappy dialogue, the gentle characterisations, the entertaining plots … and the utterly brilliant wisecracking sleuth who is the central character. And if you’re not a fan but like detective fiction, then you should be. After all, Netflix devoted a decent budget to the recent movie adaptation starring Mark Wahlberg…

In the books, Spenser is as great and involving a character as John D McDonald’s outstanding Travis McGee, although he never appears to live on a boat. There’s a consistent backstory (ex-cop, ex-boxer, ex-military) and by this, the 33rd novel in the series, reading the books is an exercise in comfort and calm. The plots are always tangled but there are no magic solutions: Spenser gets his man (or indeed woman, as in this case) by sleuthing rather than by miraculous insights, And sleuthing is dull stuff, except when it’s exciting and dangerous. So be prepared for long stakeout conversations with either no one at all or with his pet, Pearl the Wonder Dog. Some of these chats are enough to make a chap’s eyes water.

Set in Boston, as are all the novels, mostly, Spenser is employed by the grandmother of a young fellow who has confessed to a school shooting – a shooting in which lots of pupils and teachers met their ends. Grandmother commissions our hero to prove the guilty child’s innocence, setting off a seriously hard slog as the case gradually unravels before us. Although it starts off slowly and although most of the usual sidekicks aren’t there to provide comic relief and social support, the plot builds rapidly to a fine conclusion.

As already mentioned, this is book 33 in the Spenser series – all of which sit well on the bookshelf alongside other treasured American private investigators like Matt Scudder and Kinsey Millhone. If you enjoy the slow progress of watching characters evolve and the writer’s skills develop over a lengthy relationship then you’ll want to start at the beginning of the Spenser series: it’s definitely worth the investment.

Having said that, School Days is a decent read as standalone – even if it’s not not quite the best of the Spenser investigations.

Recommended. Roll on Spenser 34!

Reviewed by Frank Westworth
School Days by Robert B Parker is available at Amazon

Meet another intriguing private investigator, JJ Stoner…

The English assassin who solves mysteries with sharp knives and blunt instruments

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