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School Days    by Robert B. Parker order for
School Days
by Robert B. Parker
Order:  USA  Can
Putnam, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The old Spenser that fans know and adore is in fine fettle in School Days - all easy banter, wiseass humor, and casual flirting. His inamorata, Dr. Susan Silverman being at a N. Carolina 'shrink conference', Spenser's constant companion is their beloved German shorthaired pointer Pearl, who's so spoiled she even has her own personal trainer. He also fits in a few fiery encounters with strong, sassy, sexy lawyer, Rita Fiore.

We've seen Spenser take on lost causes and cases before but this one is a doozy. Wealthy Lily Ellsworth hires the sleuth to investigate her grandson Jared Clark's involvement in a private school slaughter. The 'school badass', Wendell Grant, who was caught in the act, identified Jared as his accomplice, and the seventeen-year-old even admitted it to police. Not a lot of room to maneuver, but Spenser has often helped underdogs, even some who snarl and sneer at him as this young man does. Jared is indeed in sorry state. His parents have hired an incompetent lawyer and seem anxious to remove their son from their lives for as long as possible. Only his grandmother is rooting for the boy.

Spenser digs. He brushes off intimidation attempts by the local police chief, ignores an uncooperative school president, and deals easily with a punk named Animal. He finds much that does not add up to the commonly accepted total. The hot school guidance counselor, Dr. Beth Ann Blair, describes Jared as a bully target who 'took refuge in nasty websites', but his peers don't paint the same picture. Spenser follows the gun trail (the police surprisingly have not) to a gangbanger, and he discovers mitigating circumstances that help Jared's case. Susan returns in time to summarize the situation, saying 'Perhaps the one absolute essential to growing up well is being tough enough.'

The novel closes with typical repartée between Spenser and Susan. After she says that some hope is better than none, and he queries whether she learned that at Harvard, Susan replies, 'I learned that from you.' If you're not a Spenser fan yet, you have many volumes of reading pleasure ahead. If you are, School Days shows the sleuth on top of his game.

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