Everybody loves a winner, and the Rabbs are major league. Marty is the Red Sox star pitcher, Linda the loving wife. She loves everyone except the blackmailer out to wreck her life.Is Marty throwing fast balls or throwing games? It doesn't take long for Spenser to link Marty's performance with Linda's past...or to find himself trapped between a crazed racketeer and an enforcer toting an M-16.America's favorite pastime has suddenly become a very dangerous sport, and one wrong move means strike three, with Spenser out for good!
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The Spenser books, particularly the early ones, are good, fast reads and very short by today's standards. Although technically book #3, "Mortal Stakes" (1975) is a good starting place for this classic series.
On the surface it's a simple story: the Boston Red Sox' manager suspects that their superstar may be throwing games as well as pitches (all Red Sox personnel in the book are entirely fictional). The manager hires PI Spenser to investigate the rumor. The trademark Parker descriptions of meals (heavy on the cholesterol), drinks (Labatt's Pale Ale, anyone?), clothes (lots of polyester), and local flavor (Boston's ambiance is captured nicely) are all there, as is Spenser's trademark repartee (which unfortunately doesn't always translate well to audio, especially since Michael Prichard is an OK but not spectacular reader).
Underneath a fast-moving plot involving blackmail and gambling, this novel builds the foundation for the Code of Spenser as the tough PI faces up to the physical, emotional, and spiritual conflicts inherent when "work is play for mortal stakes." At this point in the series he has not yet partnered with Hawk, the sociopath-with-integrity who plays such a large role in later books. Hit men like Vinnie and Chollo have not yet become Spenser's buddies and back-up. Cops Belson and Quirk, his stalwart links to law enforcement, are present, and the bonds of commitment between Spenser and his future soulmate Susan Silverman glimmer but are not yet forged.
Over 35 years and 30 novels (there are more than 30, but for me the books lose their lustre and originality somewhere after "Potshot," which was #28 or so), Robert B. Parker created an iconic character that in many ways (and despite many superficial differences) is the logical antecedent of Lee Child's Jack Reacher. Both "heroes" operate under individualistic codes of honor that in their world justify breaking rules and laws in the interests of eliminating evil, protecting the innocent, and righting wrongs. As the lines from Robert Frost that are the epigraph in "Mortal Stakes" sum it up, their deeds are done "for Heaven and the future's sakes." Spenser thinks about it a lot more than Reacher does, but they both wind up serving as judge, jury, and executioner more often than not.
In the beginning I wondered how Spenser would ever be able to investigate. Then I was pleased with things he did. I liked the way he surprised me with something about some pictures. I wondered how he would solve the problem with the blackmailers - and then I was pleased with his solution. A good mystery. Good detective. Love the few lines that made me chuckle.
I did not like Spenser sleeping with two different women. He met Susan in the previous book with a neat relationship. So why does he have sex with Brenda Loring early in this story and then Susan later? I suppose this appeals to some guys. For me? No.