By Robert B. Parker
Thorndike Press Large Print (2010), 323 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - November 14, 2010
Spenser is hired to bodyguard the life of a college professor, 48 year old Dr. Ashton Prince, who was instructed by thieves to bring money to ransom a valuable painting stolen from the college museum, but Spenser fails and the professor is killed with a bomb, which seemed to be rapped together with the painting. This novel was completed by Parker a year before his death in January 2010. The book has more of the usual Parker "wise-guy" answers than in his other Spenser novels, or so it appears. They are clever and funny and the novel itself is very engaging.
Spenser is understandably embarrassed by his failure to protect his client. He returns his fee to the museum and decides to investigate the murder pro-bono. Since he has no other lead and since it is clear that the thieves intended to kill the professor before he delivered the money, it was not a last minute decision, Spenser begins his investigation by looking into the life of Ashton Prince.
He discovers early on that the professor has had a sexual liaison with many of his students and that his "girl friend" of the moment, quite a beauty, is the daughter of the insurance investigator who is looking into the theft for the insurance company. Both the investigator and her daughter refuse to disclose to Spenser who is the father of the daughter. Spenser's investigation prompts two people to try to kill him. He kills them before they kill him. A tattoo of numbers, similar to numbers engraved on the arms of Jewish concentration camp inmates by the Nazis are on the arms of the two men. However, the tattoo was clearly not placed on their arms by the Nazis because they were too young to be alive during the holocaust. Both have the same number, so it appears to be a commemoration of sorts. The two men are not Americans. One is wearing shoes from Holland that did not reach America yet. In an interview with the professor's wife, she tells Spenser that Prince told her that he is a Jew who is alienated from Judaism.
The museum has an attorney who advised the museum officials not to cooperate with Spenser. Spenser discovers that the lawyer was also hired by the professor.
What is going on? Why was the professor killed? Is he Jewish as he claims? Is he the father of his student? What is the significance of the numbers on the potential assassins? Why did they want to kill Spenser? Was the painting really stolen? What does the painting have to do with the murder of the professor? What is the involvement of the lawyer?
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of sixteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes Wagner and Drazin's latest book Let's Study Onkelos on www.ou.org/torah.