The Spenser series is a long-running private investigator series written by Robert B. Parker. The series is set in Boston and features an intrepid PI with a smart mouth, a loving girlfriend and a reliable circle of friends and acquaintances who make regular returns throughout the series. Although Robert Parker sadly died in 2010, the series appears to be set to live on with the first post-Parker Spenser novel released in 2012, penned by author Ace Atkins.
The first lines of many PI and mystery novels have a way of setting the tone of the story and, as you will see with the first lines from each of the Spenser books, there are a number of themes that are revisited as the series progressed. You will also get a sense of the comical undertones that are sprinkled through each of the books in the series.
The Godwulf Manuscript (1973)
The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse. It was paneled in big squares of dark walnut, with ornately figured maroon drapes at the long windows. There was maroon carpeting and the furniture was black leather with brass studs. The office was much nicer than the classrooms; maybe I should have worn a tie.
Bradford W. Forbes, the president, was prosperously heavy – reddish face, thick, longish white hair, heavy white eyebrows.
God Save the Child (1974)
If you leaned way back in the chair and cranked your neck hard over, you could see the sky from my office window, delft-blue and cloudless and so bright it looked solid. It was September after Labor Day, and somewhere the corn was probably as high as an elephant’s eye, the kind of weather when a wino could sleep warm in a doorway.
"Mr Spenser, are you listening to us?"
Mortal Stakes (1975)
It was summertime, and the living was easy for the Red Sox because Marty Rabb was throwing the ball past the New York Yankees in a style to which he’d become accustomed. I was there. In the skyview seats, drinking Miller High Life from a big paper cup, eating peanuts and having a very nice time. I wasn’t supposed to be having a nice time. I was supposed to be working. But now and then you can do both.
Promised Land (1976)
I had been urban-renewed right out of my office and had to move uptown. My new place was on the second floor of a two-story round turret that stuck out over the corner of Mass Ave and Boyston Street above a cigar store. The previous tenant had been a fortuneteller and I was standing in the window scraping her patchy gilt lettering off the pane with a razor blade when I saw him. He had on a pale green leisure suit with long pointed collar, open at the neck and spilling onto the lapels of the suit.
The Judas Goat (1978)
Hugh Dixon’s home sat on a hill in Weston and looked out over the low Massachusetts hills as if asphalt had not been invented yet. It was a big fieldstone house that looked like it ought to have vineyards, and the front entrance was porticoed. It didn’t look like the kind of place where they have much truck with private cops, but you can’t judge a house by its portico. I parked in the lower parking lot as befitted my social status and climbed the winding drive to the house.
Looking For Rachel Wallace (1980)
Locke-Ober’s restaurant is on Winter Pace, which is an alley off Winter Street just down from the Common. It is Old Boston the way the Custom House tower is Old Boston. The décor is plain. The waiters wear tuxedos. There are private dining rooms. Downstairs is a room which used to be the Men’s Bar until it was liberated one lunchtime by a group of homeless women who got into a shouting match with a priest.
Early Autumn (1980)
The urban renewers had struck again. They’d evicted me, a fortune-teller and a bookie from the corner of Mass Ave and Boyleston, moved in with sandblasters and bleached oak and plant hangers, and last I looked appeared to be turning the place into Marin County whorehouse. I moved down Boyleston Street to the corner of Berkeley, second floor. I was half a block from Brooks Brothers and right over a bank. I felt at home. In the bank they did the same kind of stuff the fortune-teller and the bookie had done. But they dressed better.
A Savage Place (1981)
I was sitting in my office above the bank with my tie loose and my feet up, reading a book called Play of Double Senses: Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Silver Silverman had given it to me, claiming it was my biography. But it wasn’t. It turned out to be the sixteenth century English poet who spelled his name like mine. The gut that wrote it had become the president of Yale, and I thought maybe if I read it, I could become Allan Pinkerton.
“She’s a goddamned whore,” Harry Kyle said. “And I don’t want her in this house again.”
“For God’s sake, Harry, you’re talking about your own daughter,” his wife said.
“She’s a goddamned whore,” Harry said.
“You don’t know that, Mr. Kyle,” Susan said.
“The hell I don’t. I saw her in there hanging all over some guy older than me. I saw what she was doing and she can keep right on doing it, because she ain’t coming back here.”
“That doesn’t make her a whore, Mr. Kyle.”
The Widening Gyre (1983)
I was nursing a bottle of Murphy’s Irish Whiskey, drinking it from the neck of the bottle sparingly, and looking down from the window of my office at Berkeley Street where it crosses Boylston.
It was dark and there wasn’t much traffic down there. Across the street there were people working late in the ad agency, but the office where the brunette art director worked was dark. The silence in my office was linear and dwindling, like an art-perspective exercise.
There were at least three kinds of cops in Harvard Yard: a scattering of Cambridge cops, gray-haired mostly, with faces out of County Mayo; portly old men in brown uniforms and no sidearms who guarded the gates; and squadrons of Harvard University police who wore tailored blue uniforms and expensive black gun belts, and looked like graduates of the Los Angeles Police Academy. It was Harvard commencement, and if the WASPs began to run amok, Harvard was ready. I was ready too.
A Catskill Eagle (1985)
It was nearly midnight and I was just getting home from detecting. I had followed an embezzler around on a warm day in early summer trying to observe him spending his ill-gotten gain. The best I’d been able to do was catch him eating a veal cutlet sandwich in a sub shop in Danvers Square across from Security National Bank. It wasn’t much but it was as close as you could get to sin in Danvers.
I got a Steinlager from the refrigerator and opened it and sat at the counter to read my mail.
Taming A Seahorse (1986)
I hadn’t had lunch with Patricia Utley since the last time the Red Sox won the pennant. That seems like another way to say never, but in fact it had been ten years. We were looking at the menu and sipping margaritas (on the rocks, salt) in a restaurant called Bogie’s on West 26th Street in Manhattan.
"Veal's awfully good here," Patricia said.
"So are the margaritas," I said.
She smiled. "Margaritas are good everywhere."
Pale Kings and Princes (1987)
The sun that brief December day shone weakly through the west-facing window of Garrett Kingsley’s office. It made a thin yellow oblong splash on his Persian carpet and gave up.
“Eric Valdez was a good reporter,” Kingsley was telling me, “and a good man, but if he’d been neither he wouldn’t deserve to die.”
“Most people don’t,” I said.
“The people that killed Eric do,” Kingsley said.
“Depends on why they killed him,” I said.
Crimson Joy (1988)
Sheridan Street in Jamaica Plain goes uphill from Center Street for about two hundred yards, crests, and heads down toward Chestnut Avenue. It’s a narrow street, lined with two- and three-family clapboard houses. Many of the houses had been broken up into apartments and a lot of the apartments were occupied by students and recent graduates. The rest by people who worked without a tie.
On a bright, cold day in early March the last shame of winter lingered in the hard compounded mounds of snow and sand, blackened by exhaust and soot.
Vince Haller invited me to lunch at the Clarendon Club on Commonwealth Avenue with the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Taft University, Haller’s alma mater.
“No sneakers,” Haller told me. “No jeans, no open shirts with that idiotic gold chain you wear that’s at least six years out of fashion.”
“Susan gave it to me,” I said.
“Sure,” Haller said and gave me a look I’d seen him give witnesses during cross examination. It was a look that said you are a bigger simp than Michael Jackson.
When you walk across the Common from the Beacon Street side, coming up from Charles Street and angling toward Park Street, you are walking up one of those low urban hills that no one notices, unless they are running. At the top, with the State House at about ten o’clock and the Park Street Church straight ahead at twelve o’clock high, you look down toward the Park Street Station. Which is what Susan and I were doing on an early winter day, with maybe three inches of old snow on the ground, and the temperature about seventeen.
The dog was a pointer, a solid chocolate German shorthair, three years old and smallish for her breed. She sat bolt upright on the couch in Susan Silverman’s office and stared at me with her head vigilantly erect in case I might be a partridge.
“Shouldn’t she be lying on the couch?” I said.
“She’s not in analysis,” Susan said.
“She belonged to your ex-husband.”
“Yes,” Susan said. “Good point.”
The dog’s eyes shifted from Susan to me as we spoke. The eyes were hazel and, because she was nervous, they showed a lot of white.
Double Deuce (1992)
Hawk and I were running aling the river in April. It was early, before the Spandex-Walkman group was awake. The sunshine was a little thin where it reflected off the water, but it had promise, and the plantings along the Esplanade were beginning to revive.
“Winter’s first green is gold,” I said to Hawk.
“Sure,” he said.
He ran as he did everything, as if he’d been born to do it, designed for the task by a clever and symmetrical god. He was breathing easily, and running effortlessly.
Paper Doll (1993)
Loudon Tripp, wearing a seersucker suit and a Harvard tie, sat in my office on a very nice day in September and told me he’d looked into my background and might hire me.
“Oh boy,” I said.
“You’ve had some college,” Trip said. He was maybe fifty, a tall angular man with a red face. He held a typewritten sheet of paper in his hand, reading it though half glasses.
Walking Shadow (1994)
The last time I’d worked in Port City had been in 1989 when an important software tycoon had hired me to retrieve his wife, who had run off with a fisherman named Costa. Her name was, incredibly, Minerva, and I found her okay. She was living in a shack on the waterfront with Costa, who, when the fish weren’t biting, which was mostly, worked as a collector for a local loan shark. This led Costa to believe that he was tougher than he actually was, a point he finally forced me to make.
Thin Air (1995)
I was hitting the heavy bag in Henry Cimoli’s Harbor Health Club. The fact that there was a heavy bag to hit was largely out of loyalty to me, and to Hawk, and to Henry past. He has owned the place since it was an ugly gym where fighters trained, having once been a ranked lightweight until Willie Pep urged him into the health club business by knocking him out in the first round of both their fights. It was a lesson in the difference between good and great.
I was backs up.
I had just collected a very large fee from a very large insurance company, which could easily afford it, for solving a very large insurance scam. I was sitting in my office on a warm fall afternoon with the window open behind me, looking at my checkbook, admiring my bank balance, and thinking about whether I should retire or buy a new gun, when an important thug named Julius Ventura came in with a sullen-looking young blonde woman.
Small Vices (1997)
The last time I saw Rita Fiore she’d been an assistant DA with red hair, first-rate hips, and more attitude than an armadillo. She’d had a drink with me in the downstairs bar at the Parker House, complained about men, and introduced me to a blowhard from the DEA named Fallon, who answered more questions about the cocaine trade than I’d asked. This time we were alone, in a conference room on the thirty-ninth floor of the former Mercantile Building, with a view of the coastline that extended north to Greenland and south to Tierra del Fuego.
Sudden Mischief (1998)
We were at the Four Seasons Hotel, in the Bristol Lounge. Bob Winter was playing “Green Dolphin Street” on the piano. I was drinking beer and Susan was doing very little with a glass of red wine. There were windows along the Boylston Street side of the room that looked out on the Public Garden, where winter was over, the swan boats were being cleaned, and had there been a turtledove awake at this hour we’d have almost certainly heard his voice.
Hush Money (1999)
Outside my window a mixture of rain and snow was settling into slush on Berkeley Street. I was listening to a spring training game from Florida between the Sox and the Blue Jays. Joe Castiglione and Jerry Trupiano were calling the game and struggling bravely to read all the drop-ins the station had sold. They did as well as anyone could, but Red Barber and Mel Allen would have had trouble with the number of commercials these guys had to slip in. The leisurely pace of baseball had once been made for radio.
Hugger Mugger (2000)
I was at my desk, in my office, with my feet up on the windowsill, and a yellow pad in my lap, thinking about baseball. It’s what I always think about when I’m not thinking about sex. Susan says that supreme happiness for me would probably involve having sex while watching a ball game. Since she knows this, I’ve never understood why, when we’re at Fenway Park, she remains so prudish.
She was wearing a straw hat, pulled down over her forehead, a short flowered dress, no stockings and white high heels. A lot of blond hair showed under the hat. Her face was nearly angelic and looked about 15, though the fact that she wore a wedding ring made me skeptical. She marched into my office like someone volunteering for active duty, and sat in one of my client chairs with her feet flat on the floor and her knees together. Nice knees.
Widow's Walk (2002)
“I think she’s probably guilty,” Rita Fiore said to me.
We were in her office, high up, with a view to the harbor.
“And you’re her lawyer,” I said.
“Tells you about her case,” Rita said. She sat on the edge of her desk in front of me, her thick red hair gleaming. She had on a black suit with a very short skirt. Rita knew her legs were good.
“But you’ll represent her anyway.”
“Like everyone else,” Rita said, “she’s entitled to the best defense she can get.”
Back Story (2003)
It was a late May morning in Boston. I had coffee. I was sitting in my swivel chair, with my feet up, looking out my window at the Back Bay. The lights were on in my office. Outside, the temperature was 53. The sky was low and gray. There was no rain yet, but the air was swollen with it, and I knew it would come. Across Boylston, on the other side of Berkeley Street, I saw Paul Giacomin walking with a dark-haired woman.
Bad Business (2004)
“Do you do divorce work?” the woman said.
“I do,” I said.
“Are you any good?”
“I am,” I said.
“I don’t want likelihood,” she said. “Or guesswork. I need evidence that will stand up in court.”
“That’s not up to me,” I said. “That’s up to the evidence.”
She sat quietly in my client chair and thought about that.
“You’re telling me you won’t manufacture it.” She said.
“Yes,” I said.
“You won’t have to,” she said. “The sonovabitch can’t keep his dick in his pants for a full day.”
“Must make dining out a little awkward,” I said.
Cold Service (2005)
It started without me.
“Bookie named Luther Gillespie hired me,” Hawk said. “Ukrainian mob was trying to take over his book.”
“Ukrainian mob?” I said.
“Things tough in the old country,” Hawk said. “They come here yearning to breathe free.”
“He did. They gave him twenty-four hours to reconsider. So he hired me to keep him alive.”
A dignified gray-haired nurse in a sort of dressy flowered smock over her nurse suit came into the hospital room and checked one of the monitors tethered to Hawk.
School Days (2005)
Susan was at a shrink conference in Durham, North Carolina, giving a paper on psychotherapy, so I had Pearl. She was sleeping comfortably on the couch in my office, which had been put there largely for that purpose, when a good-looking elderly woman came in carrying a large album of some kind and disturbed her. Pearl jumped off the couch, stood next to me, dropped her head, and growled sotto voce. The woman looked at her.
Hundred-Dollar Baby (2006)
The woman who came into my office on a bright January day was a knockout. Her hair had blond highlights and her fawn-colored suit appeared to have been hand-sewn by Michael Kors. Se took off some sort of fur-lined cape and tossed it over the arm of my couch, and came over and sat down in one of my client chairs. She smiled at me. I smiled at her. She waited.
Now and Then (2007)
He came into my office carrying a thin briefcase under his left arm. He was wearing a dark suit and a white shirt with a red-and-blue-striped tie. His red hair was cut very short. He had a thin, sharp face. He closed the door carefully behind him and turned and gave me the hard eye.
"You Spenser?" he said.
"And proud of it," I said.
He looked at me aggressively and didn't say anything. I smiled pleasantly.
Rough Weather (2008)
If I rolled my chair back into the window bay behind my desk, I could look up past the office buildings and see the sky. It wasn’t exactly overcast. It was kind of grayish, with the sun pushing weakly through the thin clouds. Below on Berkeley Street the young women from the insurance companies were starting to show fall fashions. I took some time to evaluate them, and concluded that fashionable dress was heavily dependent on who was wearing it.
The Professional (2009)
I had just finished a job for an interesting woman named Nan Sartin, and was happily making out my bill to her, when a woman came in who promised to be equally interesting.
It was a bright October morning when she walked into my office carrying a briefcase. She was a big woman, not fat, but strong-looking and very graceful. Her hair was silver, and her face was young enough to make me assume that the solver was premature. She was wearing a dark blue suit with a long jacket and a short skirt.
Painted Ladies (2010)
My first client of the day (and of the week, truth be known) came into my office on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and sat in one of my client chairs. He was medium-height and slim, wearing a brown tweed suit, a blue paisley bow tie, and a look of satisfaction.
“you’re Spenser,” he said.
“I am,” I said.
“I am Dr. Ashton Prince,” he said.
He handed me a card, which I put on my desk.
“How nice,” I said.
“What can I do for you, Dr Prince.”
It was spring. The vernal equinox had done whatever it was it did, and the late March air drifting in through the open window in my office was soft even though it wasn’t really warm yet. Spring training was under way if full tiresomeness, and opening day was two weeks off.
I was drinking coffee and studying a new comic strip called Frazz to see if there were any existential implications that I might be missing, when Quirk came in and went to the coffeepot, poured himself a cup, added sugar and condensed milk, and took a seat opposite my desk.
Lullaby (by Ace Atkins) (2012)
I spotted the girl even before she knocked on my door. I was gazing out my second-floor office window down at Berkeley Street, eating a cinnamon donut and drinking coffee with a little milk and sugar. The girl looked lost among the businesspeople and tourists hustling along the icy sidewalks. She wore a pink Boston Red Sox cap and an oversized down parka with a fur collar, and stared up at the numbers on the office buildings where Berkeley intersects Boylston.
The aim of the First Lines series of posts is to give you, the reader, a taste of each book that will hopefully interest you enough to want to read more. I am only including up to the first 100 words of each book. Sometimes these opening lines are very representative of the story that follows. Other times, not so much.