Note: This review is by my husband Jim.
This is the 27th novel by Robert B. Parker featuring literate, wise-cracking Boston-based private eye, Spenser, “spelled with an ‘s’, like the English poet.” If Spenser reminds one of Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, that is no coincidence: Parker once co-authored a book (Poodle Springs) with Chandler, and he also wrote a Phillip Marlowe novel (Perchance to Dream) after Chandler’s death.
Hugger Mugger is the name of a horse, a two-year-old with great potential. Spenser is hired by Hugger Mugger’s extremely rich owner, Walter Clive (the richest man in Lamarr, Georgia), to protect the horse, which may be worth millions. It so transpires that three of Clive’s lesser horses have been shot for no apparent reason. Spenser doesn’t know much about horses, although he tells Clive that he once “met” Secretariat, who gave him “a big lap,” i.e., kiss. Clive is unimpressed, and Spenser observes that the horsey set doesn’t even care about the way thoroughbreds kiss. Spenser further demonstrates his equine ignorance when he pets Hugger Mugger and calls him “nice horsie,” to the supercilious amusement of Clive’s sexy youngest daughter.
Spenser not only has no success finding the horse shooter, but one-fourth of the way through the book his client ends up dead, apparently shot with the same gun as was used on the horses. Spenser doesn’t like losing a client that way, and so is delighted when he is hired by the client’s “paramour” to solve the murder. During his investigation, we learn many dark secrets of the Clive family. Spenser even notes that he feels like he is a character in a Tennessee Williams play.
Eventually of course, he solves the crime, with the help of the local sheriff and a bouncer at a nearby bar.
Evaluation: Parker is at his witty best here as he has Spenser skewer the horsey set, superannuated hippies, and wily small town lawyers. In a nice twist, instead of a stereotypical inclusion of a racist white southern sheriff, the sheriff in this town turns out to be honest, intelligent, and black. The plot itself is more of a traditional who-done-it than many Spenser novels, and the ultimate villain doesn’t come as much of a surprise. No problem — the reason to read these books is the snappy dialog, which is as fun as ever.
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of the Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2000