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by Robert B. Parker

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Sixkill by Robert B. Parker
© Putnam
Putnam, May 2011

It is entirely appropriate that one of the best and most prolific writers of detective novels should go out with a big bang. With Sixkill, his final Spenser novel, Robert Parker proved that he still had what it takes to captivate his fans when he died in January 2010.

Even after 70 novels, the fast-paced action and snappy dialogue-driven plot epitomize the finest of Parker's work. Spenser is in his best form, impertinent, positive, and still deeply devoted to Susan Silverman, the love of his life, English poetry, and his work as a private detective. He has remained consistent through 39 novels in this series. Parker wrote three other novel series — police chief Jesse Stone, detective Sunny Randall, and Old West lawmen Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch — and a number of stand-alone novels.

Spenser always plows ahead doing what he sees as the right thing. Having read Le Morte d'Arthur too many times as a youth (his characterization), he sees himself both as the hero of a morality play and an avenging angel come to Earth to right wrongs and fight for truth, justice, and the American way. At the end, having succeeded once again, he drives west toward Susan and the light. The rain which has darkened the scene throughout has lifted and the world seems freshly washed. "The cleanliness was almost certainly illusory, or at best short-lasting. But life is mostly metaphor, anyway." It is the image of the Leatherstocking sitting in his chair facing west, dying as the turmoil of the East snips at his back.
Some characters drift by, but stand in reserve should Spenser need assistance. Chollo, Bobby Horse, and Tedy Sapp would kill for Spenser. Victor del Rio still owes Spenser a favor that he is able to repay. Not all of our favorite characters are here. The magnificent Hawk is somewhere in China, and he is particularly missed. His replacement fills the bill, however. Zebulon Sixkill is a huge Cree Indian, a stellar college football player who succumbed to drugs and alcohol. Do not let that fool you; he is no stereotype. Sixkill is a developing character whom we would have liked to see again and who would likely have appeared in subsequent Spenser novels. Lately, Sixkill has been working for and just fired from his job as a bodyguard for Jumbo Nelson.

A Fatty Arbuckle clone, Jeremy Franklin Nelson is a corpulent movie star whose appetite for girls, boys, drugs, and alcohol is gargantuan. A young woman has died in his bed under not so mysterious circumstances. Police Captain Martin Quirk actually believes that he is innocent of murder, although he may well deserve prison time for various other peccadilloes. Quirk comes to Spenser for help because he cannot afford to buck the system that seems set on railroading Nelson into prison. That sets the action into motion. The plot centers on two major threads: Spenser's effort to find out what really happened in that hotel room and Spenser's effort to return Sixkill to a sane and sober life.
The interplay between these two elements makes for a powerful and fulfilling read, sure to satisfy every fan of Parker. Sixkill provides a fitting valedictory to the close of the writing career of a distinguished master of his genre. Parker has gone out on top in one of his most memorable mysteries. The series ends with one mystery yet unsolved. We still do not know Spenser's first name.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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