cover image Small Vices

Small Vices

Robert B. Parker. Putnam, $21.95 (308pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14244-4

Spenser returns in top form (his 24th adventure, following Chance) to clear a man wrongly imprisoned for murdering a woman college student. Ellis Alves, a black man with sexual assaults on his record, was convicted easily when two witnesses said they saw him kidnap the victim. Former prosecutor Rita Fiore suspects a frame-up, however, and hires old pal Spenser to investigate. ""You gonna get buried,"" Alves warns Spenser and his sidekick Hawk. Sure enough, reopening the case pits them against the victim's influential parents, her hostile tennis-star boyfriend and his wealthy family, and the state cop who arrested Alves. Four Boston thugs can't force Spenser off the case, but an imported hit man pours several bullets into him. Barely surviving, Spenser emerges from a coma with his gun hand useless. Parker writes a powerful, affecting description of Spenser's painful rehab. The sharp, densely compacted dialogue, a hallmark of this series, exceeds itself here. Even psychologist Susan Silverman's discourse, as she shrink-raps on Spenser's motivation, has a lower than usual pretense quotient. Susan wants to adopt a child with Spenser, but he is determined to risk another clash with the hit man. Spenser, still thoroughly convincing as the tough and decent PI, seeks bits of justice where he can. Even after 23 years on the job (The Godwulf Manuscript, Spenser's first appearance, was published in 1974), nobody does it better. BOMC selection (Apr.)