At the time, the private eye genre _ typified by a wisecracking knight-errant with a pistol in his shoulder holster and a bad attitude toward authority _ had fallen out of favor with both readers and critics. It was viewed as a museum piece from the 1940s _ an anachronism in post-‘60s America.
Parker breathed new life into the genre, launching a renaissance that made way for dozens of best-selling, hard-boiled detective writers from Walter Mosley to Dennis Lehane.
Now, 15 months after Parker died at his writing desk at age 77, his 39th novel featuring Spenser has been published. (Parker’s estate and publisher recently announced that new Spenser books will be written by Ace Atkins.)
Most book reviewers prefer the early Spenser novels, including “Mortal Stakes” (1975) and “Looking for Rachel Wallace” (1980) over the later ones, which were often thinly plotted and repetitious of earlier work. But “Sixkill,” with its crackling dialogue and compelling story line, is one of the better Spenser yarns of the last decade.
The story revolves around Jumbo Nelson, an obese, drunken pig of a man starring in a Hollywood movie being shot in Boston. When he is accused of raping and murdering a young woman, the press is ready to lynch him. But Spenser, who despises Jumbo, has doubts about his guilt and sticks his nose into the case.
Jumbo, too dumb to recognize a good thing when he sees it, objects to some of Spenser’s questions and puts his sullen young bodyguard on him.
The bodyguard, Zebulon Sixkill, is a Native American who played big-time college football, got booted from his team for using steroids and turned to a life of thuggery. After Spenser beats up the kid, he dusts him off and takes him under his wing, just as he had done with several other troubled young men in earlier books in the series.
Loyal Spenser fans may be disappointed that Hawk, Spenser’s intimidating black sidekick, makes no appearance, but other members of the series’ ensemble cast, including the hero’s lover, Susan Silverman, are well-represented. And as always in a Parker novel, the dialogue crackles and the prose is world-class.
Bruce DeSilva is the author of “Rogue Island,” which was awarded The Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for best first novel.