Monday, May 9, 2011
Jumbo Nelson, a crude and overweight celebrity, is on the hook for murdering a young woman who died in his hotel room. A lot of evidence (and most of the media) points at him, but Capt. Martin Quirk of the Boston Police Department has his doubts. And he also has Spenser, a private investigator who can continue poking around the Nelson case after Quirk's superiors have leaned on him to accept the face-value version of things and move on to others.
Jumbo may or may not be guilty of murder, but he needs no trial to be convicted of being a first-class jerk. Soon after meeting, Spenser has to deal with his bodyguard, former college football star Zebulon Sixkill, mostly in order to satisfy Jumbo's ego. Like most folks who face off with Spenser, Sixkill or "Z" loses, and Jumbo fires him. But Z wants to know how Spenser could beat him and so continues to hang around, and Spenser sees something worthwhile in the former bodyguard and so begins to teach him.
Parker weaves Z's biography of athletic superstardom and betrayal into the story of Spenser trying to find out what happened the night the young girl died in Jumbo's suite. We see how he became bullying bodyguard of an even bigger bully at the same time we see Spenser try to teach him to be more. We're probably meant to see some parallels between the story of the young woman who died and Z himself, but Parker seems not to have had the time to polish that connection.
Sixkill ranks with the last handful of Spensers that Parker produced before passing away. Though nothing like the works of his peak period of the mid-1970s through the late-1980s, it's head and shoulders (and knees and toes, really) above the series entries from about 1990 through 2010. There's not very much new here -- Spenser helped an aimless young man find direction in Early Autumn, and dealt with wacky Hollywood types with buried dark secrets in Stardust (as did Sunny Randall in Blue Screen). Jumbo's situation copies the Roscoe Arbuckle murder trial of 1921, although Arbuckle was reputed to be quite a bit more likable than Jumbo.
Astute Parkerphiles will note this is the second Spenser in a row lacking the laconic leg-breaker and Spenser companion Hawk. Was Parker fashioning "Z" Sixkill as Hawk's replacement? Was he going to star in his own series now that the Sunny Randall series seemed more or less over? There's no real way to know. It is kind of satisfying for Parker's last full Spenser to feature his mainstay character training someone younger, passing on knowledge that he had to a new generation. And it's satisfying for Parker's version of the character -- which some close-minded folks (like myself) will probably insist on calling the real Spenser once Atkins' Spensers start being published -- to bow out with a quality entry rather than one of the retreads that have dragged through the last 20 years.