Mortal Stakes by Robert B. Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
BOTTOM LINE: This third Spenser story is a tidy PI tale centered around baseball, porno movies, and blackmail, mixed with a good deal of information about what makes Spenser "tick". A bit old-fashioned seeming now, but still powerful - and entertaining. Three-and-one-half stars, but I don't know how to give a rating of a half-star.
Marty Rabb is a terrific pitcher, and with him on the mound it looks like Spenser's (and my) beloved Red Sox are going places. Plus he seems to be, PR-wise, one of the original good guys, a kindly, not too bright jock, with all the best components of that sort of man, including a high sense of personal honor, and a joy of "playing the game" that's very old-style honorable. (and seems rather innocent now). But now there's a nasty rumor going around that somebody on the team is throwing games, and it might be good-guy Marty; the PR department hires Spenser to find out the origin of the rumor, and if there's any truth to it.
Spenser turns up lots of creepy-crawly stuff by turning over lots of rocks, and meeting with some extremely questionable folks, and we come along with him every step of the way. It's mostly first-person narration/description throughout, and it's smoothly done, in the best PI tradition. And the tone of this nicely written, old-fashioned novel does seem rather innocent when compared with mores of the current day, but I enjoyed tripping back to a time (and place) when I, too, wanted to believe in The Good Guys and their ways.
There's a good deal of examination of Spenser's rules for living and his code-of-honor and, indeed, he certainly fits the stereotype of White Knight PI to a T. And we love him for it. Plus the plot is tidily resolved, and not too sweetly neither. And, as an extra nice little bit, we get to watch Spenser and Susan's relationship developing - it's early days as yet, and she hasn't yet developed many of the quirks that make her so annoying in some of the later novels. Here she's still funny, sharp-witted (and sharp-tongued), and a nice foil to and for Spenser. All-in-all, this third Spenser novel is quietly forceful, rather like Spenser himself.
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