Parker, Robert B. Potshot. New York: Berkley, 2002. 335pp.
Robert B. Parker's Spenser character has always been one of my favourite private eyes. It's a popular series and Parker has contributed to it very prolifically, with 33 novels since 1973 and at least one per year since 1981. It's probably unavoidable that such a long series would have its ups and downs, good, bad and indifferent books interspersed over the years. And this is the case, with this series probably a bit harder hit than some. Certainly, it's been a very long time since a truly great one has been published, one to stand with Looking for Rachel Wallace. On the other hand, there has hardly been any true stinkers either, with most being at least readable and entertaining. I think that one of Parker's secrets in this has been to keep the novels short -- they never have a chance to really get on your nerves before they're done. And certainly, the worst of the Spenser novels have qualities that can annoy. The line between confident and smug; witty and arrogant; thematic and repetitive; loose and pointless plotting is all very thin, one Parker balances on in all the Spensers.
So, where does Potshot fall? I'd say a bit on the lower half of the scale. The plot is rather thin -- a woman from little town Potshot, Arizona hires Spenser is to figure out who killed her husband. The local gang is suspected. Spenser hires a bunch of extras from previous books (Chollo, Bobby Horse...) to to travel down to Potshot to help out. Hawk, of course, is by his side. All is not as it seems in Potshot. Ultimately, our man Spenser solves the crime and puts everyone in their place. Wittily. With short sentences.
So, not dull, not bad, some good moments, but largely on autopilot. But in the end, Spenserville is such a comfortable place to visit, that I tend to forgive a lot. I'm actually a little behind in the series. Five more have already piled up: Widow's Walk, Back Story, Bad Business, Cold Service and School Days as well as a couple in the somewhat fresher Jesse Stone series (Death in Paradise and Stone Cold). Police family drama All Our Yesterdays (1994) is probably the best Parker novel in the last 10+ years.