Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review of The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert Parker (1974, Houghton Mifflin)

Boston in the early 1970s.  A wise-cracking private investigator, Spenser has been hired by a university to recover the Godwulf manuscript, a rare medieval illuminated text.  His initial focus is a student radical group who oppose the forces of capitalism.  When one of their members calls him in the early hours he arrives at her apartment to find her heavily drugged holding a gun and her boyfriend shot dead.  She swears that he was killed by two men and the gun forced on her, but to the police it looks like an open and shut case.  Spenser, however, believes she might be telling the truth and her rich parents hire him to discover the truth.  Others though are not so keen for him to be meddling in their affairs.

First published in 1973, The Godwulf Manuscript is the first in the Spenser series that had reached book #40 by the time of Parker’s death in 2010 and also spawned a hit TV show and some TV movies.  Spenser, as introduced in the book, continues the hardboiled, American PI tradition of the wise-cracking, womanising, tough guy investigator, which is perhaps no surprise given Parker’s own interests in the private-eyes of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald, on which he wrote his PhD dissertation.  While the theft of a medieval manuscript sounds like a relatively sedate case for a tough guy PI the tale soon shifts focus as Spenser tries to free a student framed for murder and tangles with both cops and the mob.  Never short of a wise-crack, Spenser manages to rub up the wrong way just about everyone he meets and progresses from one scrape to the next in the pursuit of justice.  A good example of oeuvre, tightly written and rattling along at a fair clip, the book is an entertaining read that will appeal to fans of hardboiled PI tales.


pattinase (abbott) said...

This knocked me out when it came out. It seemed so much more personal than similar books of the time.

Bill Selnes said...

I equally loved the book when I read it some decades ago. I just raced along through the book as the dialogue drew me onward.