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by Robert B. Parker
Penguin USA, March 2004
320 pages
ISBN: 0399151451

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Approximately three decades after his debut, Robert B Parker's most famous private investigator, Spenser, puts in another appearance in BAD BUSINESS with nary a twinge of arthritis in evidence to slow him down despite his longevity.

Award-winning Parker is something of an institution in American literary circles and could possibly even be likened to Raymond Chandler in his effect on American crime fiction. Parker taught for a brief stint after obtaining his doctorate, with a thesis which included mention of the work of Chandler. And he finished a novel, POODLE SPRINGS which was left incomplete by Chandler. Adding to the Chandler mythos, Parker wrote PERCHANCE TO DREAM, a sequel to the former's THE BIG SLEEP.

It would be most unfair to describe Parker's writing as derivative; he has a voice all of his own. In addition to his many Spenser novels, he has written other series , one in which Sunny Randall stars and another featuring Jesse Stone. Parker has even dabbled in Western fiction -- GUNMAN'S RHAPSODY was published in 2001.

BAD BUSINESS takes a look at shonky big business. The tale begins innocuously enough with Marlene Rowley coming to Spenser's office to hire his services to investigate her husband, Trent. She demands that Spenser find evidence -- preferably graphic evidence -- of Trent's infidelity. There is a very funny scene depicting a wagging tail of investigators following various errant spouses (spice?) and finally deciding to pool some of their knowledge.

Trent Rowley is the chief financial officer of Kinergy, a power broking company whose wellbeing is balanced on vast financial dealings. Spenser is bemused to find his simple divorce case blossom into a full murder investigation. Fortunately for him, he has his faithful aide-de-camp Crow, the services of his dog, Pearl and his friends in the police department upon whom to call. Along the way, Spenser encounters a sleazy talkshow host, Darrin O'Mara, sometime corporate pimp who espouses a strange notion of courtly love. O'Mara has an inexplicable attraction for various of the corporate wives, as well as a rather unsavoury friend.

Spenser needs to do a quick course in the financial practices of big business in order to uncover just what is going on. Fortunately, he numbers amongst his associates the world's most accomplished chartered accountant.

After all these years of writing crime thrillers, Parker has a slick turn of phrase. He employs humour to engage his readers as well as a suitably twisty plot. The book could not be described as containing memorable people from the point of view of characterisation, however. All Parker's goodies tend to speak with the one wise-cracking voice which is not to say that it detracts from the tale as a whole. It would just be nice to see some characters whose personalities are more than sketched.

Parker fans as well as those readers sampling his work for the first time are unlikely to be disappointed. This is a glossy, humorous tale peopled by largely unsympathetic characters in the financial world but funny and appealing goodies.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, April 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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