05/23/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
by Robert B. Parker
One of the saddest recent experiences for mystery fans has been to watch the steady decline of Robert B. Parker, creator of the ultimate meat-neck detective Spenser. All the old quirks remain—the preoccupation with recalling meals item by item, the jokey brooding about machismo and feminism, the stunted sentences, the labored puns—but the poetry has gone out of the storytelling, and the kinetic thrill has gone out of the scenes of violence.
In Parker's 26th novel a stage director is being stalked, then an actor is murdered onstage during a performance. But Parker doesn't get nearly-enough mileage out of this setup. The plot, ultimately involving Chinese businessmen, immigration scams and several love triangles, feels convoluted and arbitrary. Committed fans of Spenser, his psychologist lady friend, Susan, and his black sidekick, Hawk, can probably fill in the blanks. For anyone happening on Parker for the first time, alas, there are blanks aplenty, as though the author feels he has exhausted the possibilities of these people but is stuck with them for reasons of reader expectation and money. Better to buy a paperback copy of Looking for Rachel Wallace or The Judas Goat and remember what Parker used to be. (Putnam, $19.95)