Small Vices, by Robert B Parker

Summary: Spenser on sparkling form

Spenser’s pal, the high-flying lawyer Rita Fiore, hires him to look into the conviction of a black man, Ellis Alves. Alves, a petty criminal with a history of sexual violence, has been sent to prison for the apparent sexual murder of a young student. The thing is, Alves, unpleasant a human being as ever there was, might not have actually done it.

Spenser starts poking about in the case with his usual mixture of insight and irreverence and finds the cases against Alves to be a bit on the fishy side. All the more so when folk start showing up threatening to do him violence for asking questions in the wrong places. In this instance, however, the violence that they are threatening may, for once, be more than Spenser can handle, even with the capable assistance of his buddy, Hawk.

Parker’s Spenser is a great creation – smart, kind and tough in equal measures, in the mould of the classic knight errant of American gumshoe literature, dwelling amidst a great community of characters, cops and crooks alike. This is a particularly satisfying episode in his literary career, when he finds himself faced with an opponent who may be his martial superior. All in all, a  great episode in the Spenser canon.

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