Back Story by Robert B. Parker
Back Story – A Spenser Novel
By Robert B. Parker
Read by Joe Mantegna
If you read my review of Robert B. Parker’s book, Resolution, you may recall my mentioning his popular detective series, featuring the man known as Spenser. And yes, it’s just Spenser. As far as I know it’s never specified if it’s his first or last name, but he is often referred to as Mr. Spenser by an assortmnet of clients and by the police, so perhaps therein lies a clue!
If you’re not familiar with Spenser I suggest you get acquainted. He’s smart, witty and surrounds himself with a cadre of some of the most interesting characters you’ll ever meet. He’s also loyal, charming and a take no bullshit kind of a guy.
WARNING: If you’re offended by gratuitous violence or by crooks meeting their violent ends, Spenser may not be for you. You can count on Spenser and his partners killing at least a few criminals in every book.
My first introduction to Spenser was pretty much by chance. With the exception of maybe Michael Connolly I don’t usually read too many detective-type novels. But a few years ago when I was spending two hours a day commuting I started checking out audiobooks at the library and I happened upon one from the Spenser series.
Turns out I liked it.
I’m not sure which one it was. But the book I picked up just happened to be read by Joe Mantegna. Joe was made to perform the Spenser series. He has all the aptitude to read not only as Spenser, but also as the rest of the cast who make these novels so compelling. His voices are distinctive and he breathes life into them as if they are personal friends.
Along the way I have discovered that earlier Spenser books were read by the likes of Burt Reynolds and William Windom. Neither of those readers compare to Joe. But if you stay tuned to my blog I may get around to listening to some of those books as well.
On the other hand, I feel it is important that I mention that these books are great reads on their own. I have read at least as many as I have listened to. They’re easy reads and don’t require much thinking. And there are rarely any surprises. If your sitting there wondering just how many of these books there can possibly be, it’s around 35, with at least two more expected releases for 2009.
Robert B. Parker
I know. You’re probably also wondering how Mr. Parker can continue to write stories that stand on their own and maintain any consistent level of appeal year after year. Amazingly enough, without letting us or Spenser down, Parker does exactly that coming up with plots that are just as intriguing as any of those that came before. But as I stated, suprises are rare. These books are formulamatic. With Spenser you know what you’re getting and it’s always entertaining.
I don’t know how long Parker can continue to do it. But that isn’t because I expect him to run out of ideas. It’s just that according to library records he was born in 1932. So, I wonder if we can expect him to write for more than twenty more years. Which means there is likely only going to be about 30 or 40 more Spenser books.
Okay. Now that we have that established.
Note: I had no idea that the television series from back in the 1980s, Spenser for Hire, starring Robert Ulrich, was based on the Spenser series. At the time that series was on I wasn’t watching much TV, so I have no idea how Ulrich’s portrayal of Spenser went.
More recently I have been tracking down some of the earliest Spenser books and I have learned quite a few things about him I hadn’t previously known. The early books feature things that I am glad Parker phased out, but for the most part those books are just as great as any of the newer ones and to be honest, much more revealing.
Many of the early books are less than two hundred pages–the kind of books you can put away at one or two sittings. I suggest reading a few of those just to get in touch with Spenser and then move onto the later years. Of course if you’re a commuter or you have tons of time to listen while you keep yourself busy with other things, then find any of the books that Joe reads and start listening.
The book I am going to discuss here is called, Back Story. Back Story is the 30th book in the series and was released back in 2002 (this audio version in 2003).
You know you’re in for a good story when Spenser takes on a 28 year old murder case all for a half box of Krispy Kreme Donuts. Yes, as you will learn Spenser often works for very little money. But as far as I know this is the only time he has worked for donuts. Being a former cop though, it only figures he would have a taste for donuts.
Half a Dozen'll do!
The case here involves a 1970’s bank robbery gone wrong. One of those radical revolutionary groups, like the ones who kidnapped Patty Hearst, are responsible and Spenser’s client’s 34 year old daughter has finally decided she wants answers. Of course the answers she gets may or may not be the answers she was hoping for.
I should mention that the client is a close friend of Paul Giamcomin, a character introduced years before in one of the more revealing Spenser novels, Early Autumn. Paul beomes a sort of foster son of Spenser, in that earlier book and I recommend reading that book before listening to this one in order to establish some of the history between them.
Obviously, a woman that waits 28 years to start seeking answers must have some of her own issues and conveniently enough, Spenser’s longtime girlfriend, the noted psychologist Susan Silverman, is there to help him analyze.
When things get rough and the local gang of thugs show up to hinder Spenser’s investigation he calls in Hawk for backup. Hawk is sort of like calling in a one man wrecking crew. The only other man on this planet that may be able to give Hawk a run for his money when it comes to fighting and killing is Spenser.
This is where Joe Mantegna is at his best. His portrayal of Hawk and of Hawk’s interaction with Spenser is on par with an award winning one man trunk show that might run on Broadway. He’s got so many voices that are so spot on it’s no wonder that this series has so many fans.
In case I haven’t made it entirely clear, these books are often humorous. This one is no exception. Possibly the most amusing part of this book involves the recent loss of Spenser’s dog. The manner in which Spenser and Susan contend with this situation is a perfect example of their unique personalities. And it will certainly make you laugh.
The laughter is what brings me back to the Spenser series. It’s good intelligent fun. I think we can all use more humor in our lives, especially in this day and age. Lippity Lop.