Spenser, the protagonist of Robert B. Parker’s classic detective series, should be about 70 years old. But a few years back, Parker decided to stop aging him. He’s older, maybe a little slower, but Spenser is just as tough, brave and sarcastic as ever in Hundred Dollar Baby, Parker’s 34th installment of the series.
Spenser gets a visit from April Kyle, the beautiful but troubled young woman he rescued twice (in Ceremony and Taming a Sea Horse). This time, April, a former prostitute, has gone into business for herself, and she has run afoul of some tough-guy types who want to take over her whorehouse. She’s hoping Spenser can persuade the men to leave her alone, which, of course, is light work for him and Hawk.
In Ceremony, Spenser was hired by April’s parents, who were worried that April might be turning tricks in Boston’s infamous Combat Zone. Starting from there, Spenser followed a trail of human depravity until he found April, but once he rescued her, he didn’t quite know what to do with her. Faced with very few choices — and no good ones — Spenser placed her in the care of a New York madam named Patricia Utley (his rationale being that, if April wanted to be a whore, she might as well be a good one).
In Hundred Dollar Baby, Utley has helped April set up shop in Massachusetts, and she wants to keep it a woman-owned, woman-operated business. That’s all she wants. Or is it?
Spenser is accustomed to April not telling him the whole story, so when that turns out to be the case, he is hardly surprised. However, Spenser being Spenser, he cannot leave it alone, and as he keeps digging, he finds that nothing is as it seems.
Parker’s strong points have always been clever dialogue and readability, and Hundred Dollar Baby is no different. Spenser never disappoints his fans, remaining true to himself, his significant other Susan Silverman, and Hawk as he digs for the truth regardless of whether his client wants to hear it. The dialogue sometimes seems repetitive, particular between Spenser and Susan, but it is possible that this is by design. It is yet another reminder that, is an ever-changing world, Spenser may be the only constant.
Hundred Dollar Baby is not Parker’s best work. One sometimes wonders if the immensely talented author is spreading himself too thin between two other series characters (Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone) and his desire to write the occasional Western. But for Parker, even less than his best is still pretty darn good.