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by Robert B. Parker

Putnam, 2001
ISBN 0-399-14710-1

Reviewed by Pamela White

Thirty years and theyíre both still going strong. Robert B. Parker brings Spenser another case to unravel. And in typical Parker fashion, rarely is anyone or anything as they or it appears.

Potshot is Parkerís splendid nod to Akira Kurosawaís classic film THE SEVEN SAMURAI. A damsel in distress (or is she?) is directed to Spenser as the man to solve her problem - a murdered husband. Once Spenser pays his respects to Potshot, Arizona, he finds that the problem goes deeper than a man gunned down, unwitnessed, in the middle of town. Neither Spenser nor the reader is much surprised by this turn of events.

A group of outcasts living in the hills have been organized by a stranger calling himself The Preacher, and survive by demanding protection money from Potshot residents. As Spenser expends the requisite energy avoiding intimate entanglements with anyone but Susan Silverman, the plot, as they say, thickens. The town fathers proposition Spenser with an offer he can accept.

Can Spenser gather a band of thugs to battle the bad guys? He can, and it begins to feel like old home week to Spenser fans. The magnificent six he brings along includes Bernard J. Fortunato from CHANCE, Chollo and Bobby Horse from THIN AIR, Tedy Sapp from HUGGER MUGGER, Vinnie Morris, most recently from SMALL VICES, and Hawk, friend and colleague in most Spenser novels. Thugs they may be, but if they are Spenserís thugs they act with honor.

And if they are thugs crafted by Parker, they will have panache. In Potshot, in a house in the desert, we eavesdrop on these honorably violent, or perhaps violently honorable, men preparing apricot pancakes and sauteeing vegetables for a morning omelette.

As always, the climax involves violent confrontation. Yet Parkerís violence is never random and seldom gratuitous, and when the good guys take on and rout a gang of 40 toughs and hoodlums, they do it Spenserís way -- which is always a fair fight. When the dust clears and Spenser and Hawk ride off into the sunset (or in this case, sunrise), even the murder he came there to investigate has been solved -- although not in any traditional sense. In fact, the solution to the murder provides the bookís most enthralling plot twist.

Parkerís gift for witty dialogue -- his talent for illustrating personalities in one or two snappy sentences -- provides entertainment and insight. The windows he opens into his characters with dialogue creates an immediate connection between Spenser and the reader. Go ahead, pull up a barstool and share a platter of oyster shooters, and mai tais and beer.

Unfortunately, Potshot remains one-dimensional. As far as we know the town consists of the woman who brings Spenser there, the six men who appear to run the town, a libidinous wife of a town leader and, of course, a wise-cracking bartender as background noise. Will readers even care what happens to Potshot? I doubt it, but they will long remember the feeling of being at the house in the desert, teetering back on a porch chairís back legs, trading verbal potshots with Parkerís 21st Century Samurai gathering.

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