I'm a big fan of Robert B. Parker's early Virgil & Everett westerns (APPALOOSA,RESOLUTION, etc.) but the latest, BLUE EYED DEVIL, is Parker at his worst. For starters, it's hardly a book at all, more like a long short story fattened up with large fonts, three-page chapters, and lots of white space.
Professional gun hands Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch return to Appaloosa, the setting for the first (and best) book in the series and spend most of their time sitting on one porch or another sipping whiskey and talking about how smart, skilled, capable, and all around marvelous they are. Occasionally, they get up and shoot someone. The plotting is episodic, improvised, and often inept. For example, at one point, their old friend Pony Flores, a inscrutable and wise half-breed Indian, shows up on the run from the law with his silent brother but isn't worried about being caught because, like Virgil and Everett, he's so damn good.
"Anybody on your trail?" Virgil said.
Pony shook his head.
"Only man can track Pony Flores," he said, "is me."
"Good," Virgil said.
But a few pages later, the law shows up looking for him anyway. Virgil quizzes the trackers.
"What makes you think he's here?" Virgil said.
"Folks in Van Buren spotted them, couple weeks back, heading south. This is the next town."
So Pony's brilliant, untrackable method for eluding pursuers is to go in a straight line from one town to the next, making sure that he's seen. But Virgil and Everett continue to regard Pony as a master tracker and eluder anyway.
An editor might have caught that bit of insipidness and, perhaps, also the half-dozen repetitions of the phrase "when the balloon goes up" throughout the book, but it's been a while since anybody has bothered editing Parker…and that disinterest and laziness continues even after his death.
Parker relies on all of his tropes in this book, repeating banter that I swear I've read in all of his books and lifting situations whole from previous entries in the series (for instance, once again Everett finds a sweet, warm-hearted, still beautiful hooker willing to have sex with him for free because she gets so hot hearing him talk about how competent and marvelous he and Virgil are)
Parker has succeeded in killing this series with his own disinterest the same way he did with the Jesse Stone books. Both series started out great and then he seemingly gave up making any effort, letting them become thinly-written and loosely conceived parodies of themselves. It's a sad thing to see and even more painful to read. At least it's over fast. I doubt BLUE EYED DEVIL is even 30,000 words.
I truly hope that the two upcoming SPENSER novels that Parker finished before his death are a return to form and not, as I fear, a sad coda to a once-great writer's career.