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Knight: Spenser lives! A holiday gift

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An early and unexpected Christmas present on bookshelves continues the ongoing gift of a beloved crime-novel character, Spenser, outliving his creator, Robert B. Parker.

Parker, who died in January 2010, started "Silent Night: A Spenser Holiday Novel," but it was up to his longtime literary agent Helen Brann to finish the 229-page book.

She does a fine job.

Previously, another writer, author Ace Adkins, was hand-picked by the Parker estate to continue the Spenser series, with "Robert B. Parker's Lullaby" and "Robert B. Parker's Wonderland," and the continuation, if not resurrection, is wholly appropriate.

Parker himself completed unfinished manuscripts, notably Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe yarn "Poodle Springs" (also writing a follow-up Marlowe tale on his own, "Perchance to Dream," as well as writing the introduction to "Raymond Chandler's Unknown Thriller: The Screenplay off Playback").

Parker, a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, also wrote the Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall series, plus the distinctive Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch westerns and the dandy 2005 baseball thriller "Double Play," with fictional Joseph Burke lending a hand when Jackie Robinson gets into trouble.

But his best work – and now, his continuing literary legacy – was Spenser, the verse-quoting ex-prizefighter gourmand who cooks like a talented chef and drinks like a dockworker with dough.

Diehard Spenser readers won't be disappointed with "Silent Night," which has Parker's tried-and-true plot structure, the smart-aleck comments and especially the rich cast of familiar characters: Hawk and Healey, Quirk and Belson, Vinnie and Paul, and Susan and Pearl-the-Wonder-Dog. Maybe most important, Brann keeps Parker's sense of place and pacing, which always made Spenser novels fast and fun reads.

The story revolves around Spenser helping a street kid who needs Spenser to help an unlicensed neighborhood shelter from threats and attacks. And, as always, the tale is as timely as it is timeless.

Spenser's running partner Hawk gets medical help for someone despite a crowded Emergency Room, explaining, "I told them I was President Obama's cousin."

Spenser replies, "See how well the health-care system works when you give it a chance?"

There are other published gems for Spenser fans. The aforementioned Adkins' efforts are seamless extensions of the action, romance and derring-do of Spenser, a knight-errant as principled and chivalrous as his foes are unethical and boorish.

"Lullaby" has an adolescent seeking Spenser's help in finding her mother's murderer – four years after the killing; "Wonderland" has old pal and boxing trainer Henry Cimoli needing Spenser to resist a developer's heavy-handed moves to seize Henry's condo.

There's also "Chasing the Beat," a Young Adult novel with Spenser reflecting on his upbringing with his father and two uncles, and a challenge he faced as an adolescent.

And don't overlook "The Robert B. Parker Companion," by Dean James and Elizabeth Foxwell (Berkley 2005), which features character sketches, plot synopses, memorable quotations and even a gazetteer describing the geographical settings of the books up to then. Incidentally, Parker's own 1994 title, "Spenser's Boston" (Otto Penzler Books) is a 200-page photo hardcover that has little, if anything to do with the private investigator.

Spenser lives, and the Parker canon is worth checking out.

As Spenser often says, "You'd be a fool not to."

About the Author
Bill Knight recently retired after a couple decades teaching journalism at Western Illinois University. Now, you might find him strolling through the streets of Elmwood with his wife and fellow writer, Terry Bibo, along with their son, Opie, and his beloved collie, Lassie.* *Actually this last bit isn’t true. Not to mention the fact that our writer got “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Lassie & Timmy” mixed up.

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