Friday, August 25, 2017

Forgotten Books: THE BOXER AND THE SPY by Robert B. Parker (2008)

Help! I’m fast running out of unread Robert B. Parker books. Unless a battered tin dispatch box with new manuscripts turns up soon, I’ll have to break down and finally read Love and Glory, followed by the two he wrote with his wife, Three Weeks in Spring and A Year at the Races.

The Boxer and the Spy is the second of Parker’s three YA novels. I read the others, The Edenville Owls and Chasing the Bear, a couple of years ago, and don’t recall much about them, though I must not have hated them. I didn’t hate this one, either. Once I got used to it, in fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

What took getting used to was the repetition. Do Young Adults really need to read something over and over to get the point? Is their Short Attention Spanitis really that severe?

The biggest annoyance here was the overuse of steroids. Not by the characters, because I didn’t care about the users anyway, but by the author. The word “steroids” (or "'roids" for short) appears 62 times in this book (I know because my kindle told me so).

There’s a kid, you see, who supposedly committed suicide, and steroids (Yikes, I said it again) were found in his system, so all the Old Adults assume they were the cause. Our hero, 15-year-old Terry Novak and his 15-year-old almost-a-girl-friend Abby, don’t believe it, and spend oodles of time talking about it, and trying and failing to find out what steroids (I can’t help myself) are all about. They search online and quickly give up, then ask the school nurse and are turned away, and fret over their lack of knowledge well into the second half of the book, when they get some dope from the AMA via an older kid who works at the pharmacy. (Which brings up a sub-annoyance. Are we really supposed to believe it’s that hard for 15-year-olds to find info online?) Anyway, I got really tired of hearing the word.

The other repeated theme is he-was-gay-but-Terry- doesn’t-care. This mantra is repeated nine times. The fact that the dead kid was probably gay has nothing to do with the plot, and is never suggested as a cause for his death. It’s only there to make sure we know Terry doesn’t care. So what? Do any 15-year-olds care? I don’t know. Everything I do know about 15-year-olds seems to be about a hundred years out of date. Anyway, that mantra got old fast.

Once I got past that stuff, though, it turned out to be a pretty good book. As you might expect, Terry is sort of a young Spenser, and though he has a parent lurking somewhere offstage, his life lessons come from a retired boxer (now a boxing coach) named George. George, too, has a little Spenser in him, along with a little Hawk, making him the most appealing character in the book. Abby, likewise, is a young Susan Silverman, and though she and Terry have yet to do the do, the two know they are bonded for life.

The rest of the gang of town kids are from Parker’s stock cast of kid characters, employed over the years in various Spenser books, and in particular in the Jesse Stone series, where they regularly interact with the hero. Mr. Bullard, the high school principal, is an over-the-top villain (he’d be more believable running one of the Boston mobs), whose dictatorial powers are supposedly explained by the fact he is also the superintendent.

Parker’s pacing and humor are on display, as ever, making it all go down easy. I wish I could say the same for Robert Knott’s Cole & Hitch books. They have zero humor, scenes run on for many chapters at a time, and the always-annoying Allie is still hanging around (though Parker would probably have kept her, too). The Jesse Stone books were very well handled by Michael Brandman, and Reed Farrel Coleman is doing an equally fine job, despite the fact Jenn is still hanging around (Parker probably would have kept her, too). And Ace Aktins, after taking a couple of books to settle in with Spenser, produced a few extremely Parkerlike entries. He’s now veering into new territory, with his latest twice as long as a later-years Parker entry. I’m still hanging in there will all of them (even Knott, because I’ve gotten used to being disappointed).


Charles Gramlich said...

I like Parker but tend to only read one on occasion. For me, straight mysteries aren't usually my thing. I didn't even know he'd written some ya

Jerry House said...

I liked this one better than EDENVILLE OWLS. Haven't read CHASING THE BEAR yet. While Parker can be frustratingly readable, Coleman and Atkins have out-Parkered him in their particular series.

As a humanitarian and a person only thinking of your best welfare, for the love of God, don't -- repeat, don't -- read LOVE AND GLORY! I truly believe that over 70% of the people who read that book immediately poked out their eyeballs. Many of the rest are gibbering through slathered mouths in padded cells, praying for a merciful end.

Evan Lewis said...

Jeez, Jerry, how can I NOT read it after a buildup like that?

Anonymous said...

Indeed! I have a copy of Love & Glory that's been sitting on my shelf since it was new and I've never read it.

I had a falling out with Spenser after a particularly egregious example of Susan Silverman explaining to him (and the reader) exactly why our hero was such a driven and noble fellow. Marlowe, Hammer, Spade, Archer, Cardigan, even Shell Scott, would have all thrown themselves out the nearest window rather than be subjected to that.

Still, Love & Glory sounds so menacingly Lovecraftian that I wonder if I should tempt the sirens of unholy madness and take it down from that dusty shelf....

John Hocking

Evan Lewis said...

Good luck, John! You have a 30% chance of retaining your eyeballs. Maybe you should read it wearing eclipse glasses to increase the odds.