Spare Change

That’s exactly what this book feels like…Robert B. Parker’s spare change, the nearly worthless stuff in his pocket that gets tossed in a jar and forgotten.

Sunny Randall is usually Parker on aut0-pilot…and SPARE CHANGE is no exception, except that it may set a new low for him (something I thought the last Sunny book did). In this book, Sunny goes after a run-of-the-mill serial killer. Parker doesn’t have a fresh take on the subject, the investigation is dull and Sunny, and all the cops around her, behave like imbeciles. The climax is predictable, perfunctory, and makes Sunny unbelievably stupid. As if that wasn’t disappointing enough, Parker tacks on a totally unnecessary and laughably ridiculous "Irving-the-Explainer" at the end. Did he mean it to be funny? I don’t think so.

It’s a truly terrible book. It has none of Parker’s snappy dialogue…it reads more like someone trying to imitate Parker rather than something by Parker himself. If Parker’s name wasn’t on it, I doubt it would be the bestseller that it’s bound to be.

Actually, this feels like a half-assed Spenser, only without Spenser and Hawk. All of Spenser’s other regulars are on stage — Belson, Quirk, Healy, even the irritating Susan Silverman. Spenser isn’t around to moon over Susan, so Sunny does it for him. She even rambles on and on and on about her dog, the way Spenser does.

I’ve completely run out of patience with Parker’s fascination with his heroes and their relationship with their dogs. Spenser, Stone, and Sunny all have dogs that they treat like their children and spend endless amounts of time (and pages) thinking about and talking about.

Any time Parker starts talking about the dogs, I skip pages…something I rarely do when reading a book. But if you skip all the yammering about dogs, that only leaves about 20,000 words of story, so the book goes by pretty fast.

This makes the third or fourth Parker stinker in a row…so I’m asking myself why I keep bothering to buy, and read, Parker’s books. Is it my affection for his early work? For the impact he’s had on my writing and my career (my first two script sales were to SPENSER FOR HIRE). Usually when I get to this point, he surprises me by coming out with a great novel — an APPALOOSA or a DOUBLE PLAY or an early Stone — and wins me over anew.  Because when Parker is in top form, he’s terrific. I guess that’s what keeps me buying.

I hope the next Parker book is that great one… it’s long overdue.

UPDATE: It turns out I’m not the only disappointed Parker fan who decided to blog about SPARE CHANGE today…so did my buddy Bill Crider.

I can’t resist sharing a SPOILER after the jump:


To give you an example of just how stupid this book is, the serial killer keeps an address book on his desk…and in that address book, he includes the address and phone number of his super secret serial killer hide-out and lists it under the name of his super secret serial killer identity…a Mexican bandito who wears an enormous Sombrero. I kid you not.  And yes, in the super secret serial killer hide-out he keeps newspaper clippings about his murders, pictures of his victims, and pictures of Sunny Randall.

6 thoughts on “Spare Change”

  1. Mostly I still buy his books, used, for the dialogue, but I do avoid Sunny Randall.
    However, I highly recommend Nick Pollata’s collection “Tequila Mockingbiord,” which contains the best Parker parody ever.
    “Once outside, Onyx immediately disappeared from sight, but I knew he was close and would watch my back because we were both
    real men, and that’s what real men do. Hell, even at this moment, I was watching a real man in Dallas, and he was keeping an eye on a real man in Brooklyn. Don’t ask me how. It was just something we did without truly understanding. Was there really a brotherhood of man? You betcha, Red Ryder.
    “Stopping at a neighbor deli for a ham and Proust sandwich on nine types of bread and imported Tibetan decaf mustard, I ate my snack while jogging directly to police headquarters and contemplating the myriad wonders of Bostonian history, and how Sir Lancelot got such a raw deal on the whole babe issue. Hey, yes means yes in my book. End of discussion. Just ask Johnson and Boswell.
    “I found Lt. Quint sitting motionless in his office as usual. The man never seemed to go anywhere or do anything unless I was on a case.”

  2. I gave up on Randall and Stone some time ago. I have modestly enjoyed the last few Spensers, though. It seems he still tries a little with those.
    I imagine by this point, he must have writing these things down to a Barbara Cartland-like routine. Parker lies in the bath and calls out to his amanuensis, “First we’ll have a bad guy #7 come on, followed by fight scene #4, with the Willy Pep reference. After that, Spenser and Hawk will have dialogue exchange #2 — the one Lee Goldberg likes. Then Susan comes on for deep discussion #11.”

  3. And when Jim Born had a post on guns over at Naked Authors, I specifically asked him about something in Spare Change about guns. Early on in Spare CHange they make a big freaking deal about how it’s a .38 revolver and then the cops are looking around for the killer’s “brass” and even talk about having a scuba diver go into a duck pond looking for it.
    I asked Born about it and he said it would be the world’s stupidest killer that collected his brass from a revolver because it meant he reloaded.
    I’m with you. I basically hated Blue Screen. I mean HATED. And I was thinking, okay, just put off getting Spare Change until it comes out in paperback or, maybe, you know, never. But no, I went and got it and read it and thought, well, there’s $24.95 I’ve just kissed goodbye, along with the 6 or 7 hours I wasted reading this.

  4. Lee, C.A., David, Bill, Mark – if you’re tired of Parker – let me know and I’ll send you a copy of THE CONCRETE MAZE. It’s hardboiled, it’s noir, and I think it’s pretty good.

  5. I like the Jesse Stone novels a lot. Other than SEA CHANGE, I think they’ve been incredibly entertaining. I think NIGHT PASSAGE, the first Stone book, is just as well written as a 1970s Spenser novel.
    My only hope is that Parker writes more standalones, because those novels, like DOUBLE PLAY, are usually terrific.


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