Starred review from August 30, 1999
After 33 novels--including more than two dozen Spenser mysteries--backboned by heros concerned with distinctly male codes of behavior, Parker presents his first female protagonist. She's Sunny Randall, and she's a keeper. In some ways, Sunny is a female Spenser. Like him, she's a former cop, now a Boston PI, quick with a pistol and a quip. She teams with an odd sidekick, Spike, as Spenser teams with Hawk, and she has a significant other, an ex-husband to Spenser's Susan. But Sunny is female, and as she explains in this wonderfully involving and moving novel, that means that she can't rely on the compass of "Be a man" to orient toward life. How to live correctly is this novel's theme, as it is in the best Spenser novels, and to explore that theme Parker borrows situations from those novels. Sunny is hired by a powerful family to find their runaway daughter, Millicent, who, it transpires, is hooking and needs rescuing--like the girl in Taming a Sea-Horse. Once saved from the streets, Sunny trains Millicent in responsible adult ways--cooking, exercise--as Spenser trained Paul in Early Autumn. But it's only a minor knock that Parker uses here elements honed in 30 years of writing, for he uses them with consummate skill. Millicent, it happens, witnessed a conspiracy to murder arising from her cold, ambitious parents--her father aims to be governor--and the Italian mobsters who control them. The mobsters now want her dead, and Sunny, too, if need be. Sunny's fight to save Millicent and herself moves through a wide swath of Boston and its denizens, all etched in Parker's lean and exquisitely cadenced prose. The high suspense is equaled by the emotional power of Sunny's bonding with the damaged girl. A bravura performance, this novel launches what promises to be a series for the ages. BOMC main selection; film rights to Helen Hunt.