Sixkill, by Robert Parker
Reviewed by Rima Walker
Ever since I read Parker’s first Spenser novel called The Godwulf Manuscript I have been in love with Spenser, even though I never discovered his first name. This 39th novel about him is the last Parker wrote before his death in 2010 deprived his loyal readers of more adventures of the clever P.I. in unput-downable prose filled with witticisms and short, choppy sentences that get right down to the basic heart of the matter. If you’ve never read this series, I highly recommend that you start with the first and read sequentially so that you can see how the man, his lover, his dogs, his friends and enemies evolve.
The plot in short: an egotistical and very large comic movie actor named Jumbo claims that he did not kill the young woman with whom he’d had sex the night before. It’s Spenser’s job to track down the killer and find out whether Jumbo did it or not. The unsavory people who invested in Jumbo don’t want his career-ending situation to come to light, so they look upon Spenser as an impediment. Along the way Spenser interacts with many people, several of whom are quite familiar to anyone who has read Parker’s books—Spenser’s girlfriend, Susan Silverman; Quirk, the cop with a quip; various and sundry Mafia figures and hit men; enchantingly beautiful attorney, Rita Fiore; Harry Cimoli, who runs the gym where Spenser works out. But where is cool and very tough Hawk—a gorgeous Afro-American man who shaves his head and always has Spenser’s back and who comes up with quips of his own that are frequently ethnic and very funny? Well, he’s in Asia on business of his own. And here is where it gets interesting.
Jumbo’s bodyguard is a young man named Zebulon Sixkill, a Cree Indian whom Jumbo fires. Seeing great potential in this kid whose backstory is told in italics pretty much throughout the book, Spenser takes him on as an ally and tries to help him grow up and out of the miserable existence he was leading as a gunsil.
Was young Zebulon meant to take Hawk’s place in future novels mapped out in the thoughts of Parker? Yes, I think so. For one, the book is named for him. Besides, Sixkill is a version of Hawk, ethnic, handy with a weapon, language filled with the same kind of retorts and comments, only here pertaining to being a Native American. Spenser grooms him, imparting his philosophy of life and the code by which he lives and from which he never wavers. In a Hemingwayesque way, Spenser’s code is one filled with honor, loyalty, and grace under pressure. Not only is he philosophical, smart, and honorable, he is also a faithful lover of Susan, (despite the wiles of many women like Rita) and a fabulous cook. What more could a bright Harvard grad girl want? Any girl for that matter.
Does this sound familiar to you, sort of like Bogie in The Maltese Falcon, some of Raymond Chandler’s heroes, or various Western boots and saddles guys who live dangerously but stay true to themselves? Horace Greeley said “Go west, young man,” and like the heroes who headed for the west to seek their fortunes, so does Spenser at the end of the book, driving into the sunset to go to Susan, his great love and comfort. Romantic? Yes, indeed, and we love him for it.
I hated it when Ed McBain died never to write another 87th precinct novel, and Agatha Christie who wrote over 80 detective novels with characters who are iconic to our sensibilities and then left us, and I feel the same way about Parker. I have always waited eagerly for the next book to come out from each of them and many others like Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series, but I also hate it when publishers find an author who can continue a series after the death of a well known and very popular writer and who ultimately just doesn’t have what it takes to parody the original. I hope that doesn’t happen here because the magic is gone.~