Friday, May 30, 2008

Spare Change (audio book) by Robert B. Parker

After decades of hiding, "The Spare Change Killer," so dubbed for the three coins he leaves at each of his shootings, resurfaces. The police seek out the help of the cop who headed the original task force, now-retired Phil Randall, who in turn asks his daughter Sunny for help. Sunny used to be a cop, but is now a private detective, and she uses this status to illegally discover information the cops otherwise would've taken much longer to find. The police set a trap that allows them to come up with a list of suspects, more than was ever accomplished before, and, after seeing a few of them, Sunny becomes convinced she knows who the killer is. However, there's no evidence that would hold up in court, so Sunny sets a trap of her own. The suspected killer seems to be interested in her, so she starts meeting with him in public places, hoping he'll slip up.

This is the 6th book in Parker's Sunny Randall series, and the first book in the series I've ever read. Sunny's got a dog, who's neurotic and cute, and an ex-husband who's got partial custody of the dog. If he didn't her life would probably be a little easier, since neither she nor her ex have really gotten over each other - this becomes even more messed up when you realize that Sunny's ex is remarried. Sunny's also got a daddy complex. She wants to be her father's favorite - actually, everyone in her family, from her alcoholic mother to her sister, wants to be her father's favorite. In order to gain her father's favor, Sunny will do anything to make him happy, including doing dangerous things to find the killer who slipped through his fingers decades ago. She repeatedly goes out with a man who she is sure is a murderer, allows him to flirt with her, and is nicer to him than she should be, all in order to catch a killer for her father. Sure, she'd like to stop the killer for the sake of his victims, both past and future, but her biggest motivation is really her father.

Her friend's relationships are just as messed up as Sunny's. Her friend, whose name I can't remember, is a counselor who is sleeping with her client's husband. She invites Sunny on a double date with this man and his friend, almost everyone gets drunk, and things nearly go very badly. When this night continues to cause problems later on, Sunny's friend screams at her for not dropping everything and doing everything, whether illegal or not, to help. Oh yes, Sunny has such wonderfully stable and healthy relationships. However, I did like Spike, her tough, gay bar owner friend.

I listened to the OverDrive audio version of this book, checked out from my public library. The reader, Kate Burton, was pretty good, although the writing didn't give her much of a chance to show a spectrum of emotion. In situations where most people would have some sort of emotional reaction, the writing was bare and emotionless. The frequent use of "he said", "she said", "my father said", etc., probably more noticeable in the audio that they would've been in print, created a kind of staccato effect in the text. I got a little tired of it, although I might try a print version of another book in this series.

  • 'A' is for Alibi (book) by Sue Grafton - I've only actually read 'R' is for Ricochet, but it's usually best to start a series with the first book. However, I've also heard that it's possible to jump into this series from just about anywhere, so feel free to start with any book is the series that sounds good to you. This is a hard-boiled private eye series with a female starring character, much like the Sunny Randall series. Kinsey Millhone was originally an insurance investigator before becoming a licensed P.I. She's got a smart mouth and sharp dialog, but the tone of the series is a bit dark, much like Spare Change. Although Kinsey has a growing family of friends, she is essentially alone, just as Sunny, who can't really talk to anyone but her father and can't be married, despite being in love, is alone. In 'A' is for Alibi, Kinsey investigates the death of Laurence Fife for Nikki Fife, his wife and the person charged with and convicted for his murder.
  • The Sins of the Fathers (book) by Lawrence Block - This is the first book in the Matthew Scudder series, and apparently it's possible to read the first four books in any order you'd like - after that, you should stick to the order in which the books have been published. Once again, I've actually read a different book by this author than the one I'm listing, Burglars Can't Be Choosers, the first book in his Bernie Rhodenbarr series. However, the Matthew Scudder series sounds much more similar to Spare Change. Matthew Scudder is an alcoholic ex-cop working as an unlicensed private eye. Whereas the Bernie Rhodenbarr series is fairly light in tone, the Matthew Scudder series is darker and matches the tone of Spare Change better. Although Scudder has a family and occasionally spends time with his sons, they are not a big part of his life, so he is as much alone as Sunny, maybe even more alone, since Sunny has her father. In The Sins of the Fathers, the father of a murdered young woman goes to Scudder to ask him to find out more about his daughter - not who murdered her, since that is already known and the young man has already killed himself, but rather more about her and why anyone would want to kill her.

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