The Professional, by Robert B. Parker

Published in 2009, this is one of Parker’s last books. Spenser is offered a job by attorney Elizabeth Shaw who was referred to the detective by Rita Fiore. Shaw represents four women, all wives of much older and very rich men, who are being blackmailed by the same man, a charming gigolo named Gary Eisenhower. Much of the humor and (for me) interest comes from the negotiations between the women—these and others encountered later—and Spenser as they weigh how much to trust him.

One of the recurrent complaints I’ve heard about the Spenser books points out how annoying many readers find his loved one, Susan Silverman. As I’ve mentioned before, one of Parker’s strengths was his ability to grow and improve long after his popularity made such effort unnecessary. Here, Susan refrains from telling Spenser what kind of many he is, perhaps her drippiest manifestation and much overdone in earlier books. Instead, she actually contributes her psychological insight and professional network to help Spenser with the case.

Another common complaint about the later Spenser books denounces the increasingly terse prose. While I agree that his style has morphed (some would say degenerated) until they consist almost entirely of dialogue, perhaps influenced by the translation of many into films, I still find these books very funny. For me, they continue to have plenty of thought-provoking content. And in this book, Spenser’s friend Hawk plays a substantial role, always a good thing.

A notable exception to the mostly-dialogue style is a brief passage late in the book where Spenser, ruminating about the case, looks at the office building across the street and remembers a woman who once worked for an advertising agency there. One of the joys of reading a long series such as the Spenser series, is watching the person change over a lifetime and recognising these brief references to earlier stories. As he continues to muse, Spenser reflects that the advertising agency was now gone. “Maybe the whole building was gone, replaced by a new one. It was hard to remember.”

These brief sentences choked me up, bringing home with a sharp pain the letting go that is part of aging. While I’m not sure how old Spenser is meant to be at this time, since he’s still active enough to take down a bully, I do know how the world draws in as we age, figuratively and literally. I’m reminded of my mother for whom the diameter of the streets she was willing to travel grew smaller and smaller until she no longer wanted to leave the building. As we near death, we are focused inward. The passions of the past seem empty. We forget or don’t pay attention to changes in the world outside our room. They aren’t important anymore. In fact, not much is important anymore, only the kindness of strangers and the affection of friends and family.

As we approach the shortest day of the year, aging and death are on my mind. Much as they are part of the natural cycle, they bring sadness. I will miss Parker’s books and the good that he did in the world.

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