Murders are not the only mysteries

There's a classic crime fiction setup here, but so much more.

Published May 13, 2007

Robert B. Parker writes as if he is being charged by the word. Nothing is wasted in High Profile, his 56th novel (by my count) and the first of four books he will publish this year. He's an inheritor of the hard-boiled detective tradition of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler, but Parker writes dialogue that makes Chandler's Philip Marlowe sound like an auctioneer on amphetamines.

In short, Parker does a lot with a little.

This doesn't mean his stories are terse. It's just that the characters speak with such economy and the plots develop so organically that with no effort at all the reader is knee deep in the story before pausing to take a breath.

Parker's No. 1 sleuth has always been Spenser, the Boston private investigator. Parker has spun off a couple of other series around other detectives, Boston's Sunny Randall – who may or may not have been married to the Mob (even she isn't sure) -– and Jesse Stone, a small-town police chief in a little hamlet called Paradise.

High Profile has Stone investigating the murder of Walton Weeks, a conservative talk radio host who is found shot and hanging from a tree in Paradise. Before long, another body is found in a Dumpster – a young woman who worked for Weeks and was pregnant with his baby. It's a classic setup for crime fiction: two bodies, obvious connections, lots of suspects. But there are more emotional mysteries to be solved.

It turns out that Stone has been seeing Sunny Randall –  interesting, what happens to Parker's characters between novels –  but neither of them can fully commit because of lingering attachments to their departed spouses.

There's a lot of comedy in the book, mostly tied to Stone's handling of a high-profile case by such a small police department. And, in case you need some reasons to keep on living: Parker promises a Sunny Randall novel in June and a Spenser novel before the end of the year.

William McKeen teaches journalism at the University of Florida.


High Profile

By Robert B. Parker

G.P. Putnam's Sons, 290 pages, $24.95