Sixkill is the last Spenser novel written by Robert Parker before he died in 2010. Or the last “completed” novel, as the publisher puts it. Whatever.
I discovered Spenser around 1983, with A Savage Place, and was immediately hooked. I caught up with the seven Spenser books written before A Savage Place, and have read every Spenser (and Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall, and Cole & Hitch) book since.
Alas, an era has handed. So Sixkill was to be savored.
Sixkill centers around Jumbo, a disgusting, 400-pound movie star with every vice and personality annoyance known to man. After having sex with a young girl in his hotel room, she dies there in the room, and everything points to Jumbo being the killer.
But Quirk, one of Spenser’s friends on the force, doesn’t think he did it, and he asks Spenser to poke around. Spenser turns up some things, including a connection to West Coast mobsters, who’d rather Spenser went away.
That’s the plot to be solved. Hawk, as it turns out, is in Asia doing something or other. The usual crew put in an appearance one way or another–Tony Marcus, Ty-Bop, Chollo, Bobby Horse, Henry Cimolli–but Spenser is on his own to deal with the Bad Guys.
Except for Zebulon Sixkill, a hulking Cree Indian who began the book as Jumbo’s bodyguard but got himself fired. Spenser takes Sixkill under his wing, and the relationship becomes very much the Spenser-Hawk relationship. Typically, Hawk and Spenser engage in delightful faux street-lingo banter about honkies and the ghetto and such, most of it wholesale politically incorrect. Now we get the same banter, with a Native American twist. Cracks about Tonto and Pocahontas and Custer and whathaveyou. It’s a great deal of fun.
Sixkill also fills the Hawk role in covering Spenser’s backside against the Bad Guys.
Usually, Parker sticks closely to first-person narration. But early in the book, he diverts from that to give us Sixkill’s backstory. It’s divided up into probably five or six sections, always in italics. I didn’t really care for that. Maybe I’m a creature of habit, and this wasn’t what I was accustomed to. On the other hand, I know much more about Sixkill than I know about Hawk. Perhaps Parker, at age 77, was entering an experimental stage.
About every fourth chapter involves just Spenser and Susan talking, eating, and flirting. I didn’t find it as tiresome as it sometimes gets. However, I noticed that their dialogue repeatedly hit the same points. Spenser would mention the danger he faced, and did that bother Susan, and Susan would reply, “It bothers me, but that’s who you are. You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t face it.” We heard that over and over. And it’s not like the same themes hadn’t been struck in previous books.
Beyond that, it was a good book. Sixkill is a great character, a welcome addition to the motley pantheon.
A guy named Ace Atkins was hired to write new Spenser books. Since this is billed as Parker’s last “completed” Spenser novel, maybe Atkins will complete some books where perhaps Parker had sketched out the general idea. Although Parker said he never mapped out his plots; he just started writing, and the tale went where it went.
I don’t have high hopes that Ace Atkins can capture Parker’s style, but I’ll give him a shot. Atkins’ first Spenser book, Lullaby, comes out May 1, 2012. As always, I’ll wait a year for the paperback to come to Sam’s Club.