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Family Honor    by Robert B. Parker order for
Family Honor
by Robert B. Parker
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2000 (1999)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Spenser is back ... sort of. His stories have seemed to be running out of steam of late, though still enjoyed by loyal fans. Robert Parker has taken an interesting approach by repackaging his ageing hero as a young and attractive heroine. But, look closely and you'll see that Sunny Randall is Spenser reincarnate. Though she has more difficulty figuring out where to stash her gun and tends to rely on it more than on physical force, she sees life just as clearly as Spenser and shares his values.

Sunny has the same attitudes and ethics, works out at the gym, associates with shady characters, has a minority sidekick and loves her dog more than anything except perhaps the love of her life, Richie, with whom she has a complex and arms length relationship. And when she speaks, out come Spenser's very own words. It's quite remarkable. The first story in the Sunny series even borrows from an early Spenser tale, with our heroine rescuing and mentoring a young person from a highly dysfunctional family.

But, hey it's a great formula and it works just as well the second time around. It's hard not to like someone with a name like Sunny and a disposition to match. But I must say that I miss Hawk. His replacement is a gay man called Spike, who happens to have taken on Spenser's love of cooking in this version - Sunny can't cook of course, that would be too traditional and for some reason the women that Parker admires most (Susan for example) are not cooks.

Speaking of Susan, Sunny's equivalent is her ex-husband Richie, divorced because he was too possessive (they also have some Romeo and Juliet type difficulties as her family are cops and his are robbers). Richie seems to be the strong silent type so far but I'm sure he'll develop into someone more interesting in the following books. And just as Spenser's love of cooking transmuted into Spike's, Susan's counseling skills have been taken over by Sunny's friend Julie.

So if you've found that Spenser is slowing down a bit lately, just switch over to Sunny. It's the same formula and still set in Boston; the author has simply played musical chairs with genders and talents. And in reinventing his protagonist, Parker has also rejuvenated the series. Family Honor provides just as much reading pleasure as the early Spenser stories.

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