The One Where Spenser is Schooled on the Dangers of the Souless Suburban Life by Susan. Also The One Where We Meet Hawk, Who Is a Total Legit Badass.
It helps to keep these separate, you know?
Many of the early themes of the Spenser mysteries appear here: the emotional dangers of the suburbs, ethical nobility, women’s general sexiness, and the foolishness of various anti-establishment movements. Spenser is hired by Harv Shepard, a wheel-and-deal land-developer-contractor to find his wife who has disappeared without a note, and leaving their two children behind. Spenser is all alone in the suburbs of the Cape, and he is hoping that Susan will come up and join him for a relatively simple case. Only it turns out not so simple when they run into Hawk leaving Harv’s home. Spenser gets some legit information from the local cops and is able to track down Pam and her vigilante buddies. Pam’s feeling super-suffocated in the ‘burbs and Susan gets angry at Spencer’s seemingly casual dismissal of her midlife-identity crisis.
In comparison to prior books, the writing feels tighter. For instance, while we do have a fair amount of scenic description of the road to Hyannis, it’s kept down to three sentences, one briefly sarcastic.
“The soothing excitements of scrub pine and wide sea gave way to McDonald’s and Holiday Inn and prefab fence companies, shopping malls and Sheraton Motor Inns, and a host of less likely places where you could sleep and eat and drink in surroundings indistinguishable from the ones you’d left at home. Except there’d be a fishnet on the wall. If Bartholomew Gosnold had approached the Cape from this direction, he’d have kept on going.”
Strangely, it’s a story that is more resonant in series context than in any particular value as a mystery. It is very much a relationship book, where Spenser and Susan explore their own growing relationship and struggle with the comparisons to the unfortunate Harv and Pam and their love-based but dysfunctional relationship. Pam’s perspective on her self-actualization and Harv’s perspective on their history contain poignant but frustrated feelings. It’s also the start of a Spenser and Hawk friendship. Hawk is introduced here as a free-lance enforcer who has a shared boxing history with Spencer, but an exchange of solid favors lay the foundation of their future working relationship.
Of course, numerous time-period oink moments remain, with Spencer deliberately ‘not-ogling’ various female characters. But is seems pretty benevolently oinkish, as opposed to creepy. Recommended for series fans, but definitely not for the ‘mystery.’ There’s also an extended bit about women and ‘frigidness.’ No thank you very much, Dr. Not-Freud.
No, I did not read all the words. Because visualizing their dumb outfits hurt my eye-brain and I can’t read about 1970s conception of sexuality without hurting my thinking-brain. Our first look at Hawk:
” With him was a tall black man with a bald head and high cheekbones. He had on a powder blue leisure suite and a pink silk shirt with a big collar. The shirt was unbuttoned to the waist and the chest and stomach that showed were as hard and unadorned as ebony. He took a pair of wraparound sunglasses from the breast pocket of the jacket and as he put them on, he stared at me over their rims until very slowly the lenses covered his eyes and he stared at me through them.”
Ok, maybe I read all the words there. Two and a half silk stars, rounding down for general time-period oinkiness, which isn’t fair, but there you go.