by Robert B. Parker
I continue to read through the Spenser novels in order. Chance is the 23rd in the series. Since the book is almost 30 years old I will spoil with little guilt.
I reread the opening prologue just now as I write this. I was somewhat unaware of it as I first read through. It’s only a page and a half and there’s very little memorable about it. An unknown woman is afraid, waiting for some unnamed man to find her. It was so inconsequential, I had essentially forgotten it. There is little connection to this prologue until 1/2 of the way through the story. And even then, I didnt remember it. I believe its there to try (unsuccessfully) to cover up for poor structure in the story. More on that in a minute.
The first chapter is a typical start to a good detective novel: A guy shows up at the detective’s office and hires him to find somebody. Julius Ventura and his daughter, Shirley, hire Spenser to find Ventura’s son-in-law, Shirley’s husband, Anthony Meeker. Julius Ventura is a boss in organized crime. The son-in-law was a courier, moving money between Ventura, Gino Fish and Marty Anaheim, also criminal bosses.
To make a long story short, Spenser, trained sleuth that he is, discovers that Meeker has a gambling problem. He heads out to Las Vegas to find Meeker. There’s a lot more book in there, of course. I simplify to make a point. There are two stories in the novel. One starts and ends with Anthony Meeker. Ventura wants Spenser to find him. He does. The story to that point is interesting. Spenser lays on his charm and sarcasm in satisfying doses. He digs and learns what he wants to find out.
Then the structural problem starts.
Spenser and Hawk (sorry, I should have mentioned Hawk, but you almost don’t need to because they come as a pair unless noted otherwise) find Meeker in Las Vegas and, somewhat surprisingly, agree not to gie him back to Ventura. There’s a little mystery. Marty Anaheim is involved somehow. Spenser wants to find out what’s going on. So, he lets Meeker keep on gambling. That’s okay though. As a reader, I’m intrigued. I want to know, much like Spenser does, what the heck is going in. And if he gives Meeker to Ventura then the book is over at a hundred twenty pages.
At the halfway mark, new characters are introduced, Bibi Anaheim, wife of Marty. But she’s with Meeker, the guy with the gambling problem. They’re in Vegas together. Meeker promised to take her away from the abusive Marty Anaheim. She’s waiting, barely hoping that Meeker will pull through, win money, and set up in some faraway place where she can open a cafe. Then Shirley, Meekers wife, turns up dead in Vegas, too. The plot thickens.
By about the 2/3 mark in the novel, Spenser’s focus shifts. Even
Hawk asks him who his client is. Because by then, Ventura knows where Meeker is. Spenser was no longer pulling any salary. The whole focus of the novel changes, and he starts looking for Bibi, who disappeared because Meeker ran away with their money. Spenser wants to help her. It’s in his nature. He always wants to help powerless women, while acknowleging the inherant sexism of his attitudes. But structure-wise it was not great. Maybe, in real life, stories go off on tangents. But in novels, tangents don’t work so late in the story.
Then, when all is said and done, he uses Bibi, his supposed “client/damsel” as bait to get Marty Anaheim arrested, because Spenser discovered Marty murdered Shirley.
I think Parker’s editor must have pointed out the structural problems and Parker agreed to add the prologue to show that Bibi didn’t just appear out of thin air 50% of the way through the story.
Structure problems aside, I enjoyed the story. Parker is still great at dialogue and character. The underworld politics were interesting and scary. Spenser is great with the humorous interaction. But Parker should have listened to his editor and fixed up the structure a little more.
2 thoughts on “Book Review – Chance”
Glad you gave the date 1995. it gives a context. I’m also glad the book has Spenser’s sarcasm. My favorite Spenser comment was this: The old Boston Public Library] felt like a library and looked like a library, and even when I was going in there to look up Duke Snider’s lifetime batting average, I used to feel like a scholar. Then they grafted an addition on and shifted the main entrance to Boylston Street. Faithful to the spirit, the architect had probably said. But making a contemporary statement, I bet he said. The addition went with the original like Tab goes with pheasant. Now, even if I went in to study the literary influence of Eleanor of Aquitaine, I felt like I’d come out with a pound of hamburger and a loaf of Wonder bread.” Tooo true. The book was Waiting for Rachel Wallace.
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I actually just reread that one. And even though I’m used to the new part of the library, I must admit he’s right. The two halves just don’t compare.