Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books: SMALL VICES (1997) by Robert B. Parker

Today is Forgotten Book Friday (as usual) - my choice this week is SMALL VICES by Robert B. Parker. (Don't forget to head on over to PATINASE, Patti Abbott's blog to see what other forgotten books other bloggers are buzzing about.)

Boston private eye and general all-purpose tough-guy, Spenser (That's Spenser with an S - like the English poet) is drawn into an investigation at the request of old friend, Rita Fiore - once a lowly public defender now a hotshot at a prestigious private firm. Rita has qualms about a four year old case in which she did her inexperienced best but her client, a low-life named Ellis Alves, was convicted of the murder of Melissa Henderson, a college coed found strangled on campus.

Even though the thoroughly reprehensible Ellis Alves is/was the sort who deserves to be in prison for other crimes committed, Rita suspects he was not guilty of murder. She wants Spenser to relieve her guilt and possibly help right a miscarriage of justice.

When Spenser begins poking around asking questions, it becomes apparent to him that the two main witnesses to the crime are hiding something (or at the very least are behaving strangely), not only that but the cop involved in the original investigation is acting as if he, too, has something to hide - though maybe that's just incompetence, prejudice and shoddy detective work.

The thing is, Ellis Alves is a black man with a record and Melissa Henderson was a white girl with well-to-do parents, so everyone assumes Alves was guilty as hell and why doesn't Spenser just go away and let them all get on with their lives.

It also turns out that Melissa Henderson had a yuppy boyfriend who was never interviewed in the original case - a young man with an attitude and very, very rich parents. (That the boyfriend is a light-skinned African American adopted by white parents adds a unique twist to the mix.)

Spenser is the sort who, once he gets his teeth into something, just doesn't let go - kind of like a pit bull. It is what makes him such a relentless investigator. Eventually, he comes to believe that Ellis Alves was framed though there isn't any proof, just a working theory.

Within days the word is out that someone has hired an out-of-town hit man to take Spenser out. Obviously, Spenser has stepped on some sensitive toes.

This is the book in which we first meet the so-called 'gray man', a professional killer with no emotion, no remorse and no redeeming social qualities. He will turn up again in one of Parker's last books, ROUGH WEATHER, one of his best.

I can't say much more without giving away a couple of major plot points which help make SMALL VICES a stand-out in the long-running Spenser series. This is my second (or maybe third) time reading it and it still holds up as well as the first.

Though I'm not a fan of Susan Silverman, Spenser's girl-friend (boy is she hard to take), she isn't as obnoxious as usual in this book. Hawk (Spenser's close and very dangerous friend) is on the spot as back-up as well as Vinnie (a bad guy who works for the local crime boss - both men who happen to respect Spenser) and a couple of Spenser's cop friends who rally round when he and Susan are threatened. Last but certainly not least are the many quips and Spenser-isms we've all come to love and expect.

This is top-notch Spenser, the late Mr. Parker writing at his very best.


  1. Small Vices sounds like a good book and one that is still timely (though I don't know when it was written). But my comment is on the cover art, which I think is striking, down to the dot in the "C." Wish I'd designed it.

  2. Sounds like a gripping yarn, Yvette. The kind of book that might adapt well as a film. How many novels did Robert B. Parker write?

  3. That's the original paperback cover I believe. I have it from way back then in 1997. :)

    This is one of Parker's better books, for sure. If you've never read him though, I'd begin a bit earlier. Check out and you'll get a complete listing of all his books.

  4. Parker wrote over 60 books in three different series and a few stand-alones, Prashant.

    If you got to you can find the complete listing of all his books as well as other authors you might be interested in.

    This one was turned into a tv movie a while back. I know I saw it, but can't remember much about it.

  5. Actually Mark, where the cover is white the original was gold. It was gold and red. But everything else was the same.

  6. Sixty books! And I don't remember seeing any of them in bookstores here; yet I know they're there. I think, I need to look harder next time. Thanks for the link, Yvette.

  7. I don't particularly like Parker's books, except for the fact that I know and miss the places in and around Boston that he writes about. He's often very specific (a ship shaped restaurant north of Boston, I know which one he's talking about and have eaten there) and I love remembering those places and seeing them mentioned in books. Ah, one of these days I still hope to move back to my beloved Boston!

  8. Years ago I read a lot of the Spenser series. However, I can't remember what i read and didn't read.

    So, if I ever come up from the TBR pile, I'll try to find these two and (re)read them.

    I liked Spenser, Hawk and Susan Silverman. (Yes, I know about her attitude and all, but hey, I know a lot of people like her. This is New York, after all!)

  9. Never been to Boston except to the airport and on the highway driving up to Maine. I wish I could visit one of these days. It looks like a beautiful city.

    Actully, I've read so many books set there I kind of feel as if I've visited. :)

    Not all of Parker's books are top-notch, but when he was on his game, there was no one doing it better. At least in my opinion.

    Joan have you read the Fred Taylor art mysteries by Nicholas Kilmer? They're set in Boston. One of the main characters has a townhouse on Beacon Hill. :)

  10. You're welcome Praahant. I meant to add the link to the post, but just forgot.

  11. Kathy: My favorite Spenser books are: EARLY AUTUMN

    ....and a couple of others whose titles I've forgotten.

  12. Kathy: I meant to add: Although I've read them all. All the Spenser books, that is. And a good portion of the Jesse Stone books - at least the early ones. And the Sunny Randall books.

    I've been a fan for years.

  13. Because of your introduction to him, I have read as many of Nicholas Kilmer's Fred Taylor books as I can find. I like them better than Robert Parker's and I have the same fun recognizing the places in the book. We lived on Beacon Hill and I know it like the back of my hand.
    I like Tess Gerritsen's Rizzoli and Isles books, too. The television series, not so much, partly because the characters are so different from the book, but also because they've made some serious gaffs depicting 'Boston' locations.

  14. I've read a couple of Tess Gerrisen's books, Joan, and enjoyed them despite her penchant for blood-letting. :)

    Haven't watched the television show though. Didn't sound like my sort of thing.

    I'm so glad to hear that you're liking the Fred Taylor books. I love 'em. I wish there were more.

    Have you read 'LOOT' by Aaron Elkins? That begins in Boston for several chapters then switches to Europe, but it's one of my favorite books in the world. It's the subtlety of Elkins' character's humor that wins the day for me.

    The main character's last name is Revere. :)


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