This is the first in the late author’s highly successful Spenser series, featuring a Boston private detective (former policeman) of that name, making his way in the world. It’s largely a book of its time (the 1970s) with certain cultural signposts: there is no political correctness, and sensitivity towards those of a different outlook is somewhat lacking, at least on the surface. Spenser, a somewhat brash, bolshy, arrogant, and abusive individual, is hired by a local university to recover the Godwulf manuscript, a stolen medieval book of some value. The thief is demanding $100,000 be donated to a free school.
Spenser is on the case, pointed in the direction of a student group called SCACE (Student Committee Against Capitalist Exploitation). His first meeting with the secretary of that group and her boyfriend does not end well. From that point on, the violence and danger escalates, and Spenser has hands more than full.
This book has no literary pretensions. It struck me as being highly formulaic in its structure: Spenser gets to the scene, let’s describe the scene at length, describe the people, start the dialogue, then continue with action. From this reader’s perspective, the descriptions are OK (sometimes better than that) but too often are overdone. In other words, there’s too much description for what is necessary to set the scene and the atmosphere. (Often, but not always.) But the dialogue and Spenser’s internal revelations and thought processes redeem the book and make it worth reading as entertainment. The dialogue is sharp, often childish, but very much in the spirit of the times and his character. Spenser’s view of the world is often amusing, thus making for a more sympathetic view of this rough diamond.
The plot is simple, direct, and easy to follow. There are no complex turns here, and any twists are minor and within reason.
It’s easy, light reading, with enough of an edge and tension to make it a page turner. In short, pure escapist fun.