This is one for the fans

2011-03-09 00:00

HERE we have it: the first posthumous Spenser story from the late Robert B. Parker. Some have cast doubts on its authenticity given the author’s demise back in 2010, but considering Parker delivered a new manuscript every three months and the length of time it takes to produce a book, I see no reason to doubt that this is the real deal. There are reportedly two more to follow, along with a couple of other titles in the Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone series.

In P ainted Ladies, Boston private eye Spenser is hired to protect art historian Ashton Prince during the handover of a rare painting held for ransom. However, when a bomb kills Prince, Spenser ends up with a dead client and no painting. Finding his honour (and his credibility) seriously impugned, Spenser saddles up and sets out to balance the account.

Along the way Spenser uncovers links to Nazi depredations of Jewish-owned art that have also attracted the interest of the Israelis. This is promising material, but Parker never exploits its potential. For that you’ll have to read Sara Paretsky’s superb Total Recall, featuring her Chicago private eye V.I. Warshawski.

Even Parker’s most loyal fans will admit he had been writing on auto­pilot for some time and though they may be prepared to be indulgent, a newcomer picking up Painted Ladies, the 38th novel to feature Spenser, may well wonder what all the fuss is about.

So put this down as one for the fans. And just pray Parker doesn’t get turned into a franchise like James Patterson.

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