Book Review – Paper Doll

Paper Doll
by Robert B. Parker

Paper Doll is the 20th of the Spenser novels. I’m reading them mostly in order. A little while back I wrote about Pastime, which is #22, so I reviewed them slightly out of order. (spoiler alert for a novel written in 1991)

The story revolves around Spenser’s investigation of the murder of a woman named Olivia Nelson. The husband, a Boston rich white guy, hires Spenser to find out what happened, since the police don’t seem to have made any headway. Spenser does what he does best, he sticks his nose in where it isn’t welcome, asks lots of questions, and comes up with some answers, not always what the client wanted.

This book was very different from Pastime, which was largely about Spenser and his backstory. This novel was very much the opposite. It reads like a noir version of a Spenser novel, along with incest, false identity, rich politicians, and everybody hiding a secret. You could almost always say the following about a Spenser novel, throughout the book, Parker offers a sharp commentary on power, influence, and the darker side of American politics.

Some of the dialogue sounded like a noir film, too. Spenser’s investigation takes him to the south, where he is thrown into jail by the local cops. Quirk, his police friend from Boston (I think he’s still a lieutenant), comes down and breaks him out with some rough and tumble dialogue that could have come from Humphry Bogart himself. It was a little over the top. I admit that I liked the style of Paper Doll more than Pastime, but this one part took me out of the flow.

But this time I didn’t like the ending. It turns out that the woman was murdered not by the politician or the businessman. Instead, she was the illegitimate child of a formerly wealthy southern gentleman(ish). He had been paying her to be silent for years and was out of money. The southern gentleman(ish)’s elderly handyman murdered her with a framing hammer. And Spenser let him get away with it, “letting sleeping dogs lie.” It wasn’t very much like the knight in shining armor he perports to be in his other novels. I mean, the old guy smashed in a person’s head with a hammer. Wake up the damn dogs. No?


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