Mortal Stakes

Thoughts on
Mortal Stakes
Robert B Parker

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned Robert B. Parker before. I’m on another reading kick, this time Mortal Stakes, his third in the Spenser series, published in 1975. So I was 9 when it came out.

Parker spends lots of time on morality in his Spenser novels, often using other characters to describe how Spenser is, a modern day, tough as nails, Galahad. But 1975 Boston isn’t the same as Arthurian Camelot. And let’s face it, while Spenser’s motivations might be good, they’re not exactly pure. Or at least, his actions aren’t.

In Mortal Stakes, Spenser saves a baseball player from extortion by murdering the extortionist. There’s no other way to put it. Parker will tell you Spenser is doing good. But in a world that is a lot more complicated, he has to negotiate a more complicated path. Sure, he saves the day, But to do so he lures a guy (admittedly an evil man) to a remote place in the woods and murders him (and his friend) with a shotgun.

I was struck by the following, an excerpt that surprised me, coming from a private eye novel.

Five thirty, getting on toward supper. The road was empty now below me. The mommas and the kids and the dogs were going home to get supper going and eat with Daddy. Maybe a cookout. Too hot to eat in tonight. Maybe a couple of beers and some gin and tonic with a mint leaf in the glass. And after supper maybe the long quiet arc of the water from the hoses of men in shirt sleeves watering their lawns.

It feels nostalgic. Like Spenser sees the world of family and bbq and mowed lawns, and knows he’s not part of it. This is largely because he’s set himself up in a park, far from people, luring a mobster there to murder him.

While PI novels aren’t usually deep, Spenser is a bit deeper than most of what you’ll read nowadays.

And it made me feel nostalgic for the summer nights and the barbecues and too hot to eat inside.


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