Back Story

by Robert B. Parker

A Spenser Novel

In 1974, a revolutionary group calling itself The Dread Scott Brigade held up the Old Shawmut Bank in Boston's Audubon Circle. Money was stolen. And a woman named Emily Gordon, a visitor in town cashing traveler's checks, was shot and killed. No one saw who shot her. Despite security-camera photos and a letter from the group claiming responsibility, the perpetrators have remained at large for nearly three decades.

Enter Paul Giacomin, the closest thing to a son Spenser has. Twice before, Spenser's come to the young man's assistance; and now Paul is thirty-seven, his troubled past behind him. When Paul's friend Daryl Gordon—daughter of the long-gone Emily—decides she needs closure regarding her mother's death, it's Spenser she turns to. The lack of clues and a missing FBI intelligence report force Spenser to reach out in every direction-to Daryl's estranged, hippie father, to Vinnie Morris and the mob, to the mysterious Ives-testing his resourcefulness and his courage.

Taut, tense, and expertly crafted, this is Robert B. Parker at his storytelling best.


"The repartee between Spenser and Hawk is fast and funny...remarkable action scenes including a tense shootout in Harvard Stadium. Series fans will enjoy this mix of old and new...the finest and most influential PI series since Chandler."
Publishers Weekly

"Robert B. Parker sends out a reassuring message in his 30th Spenser novel, Back Story, which by coincidence or design, marks the 30th anniversary of his first Spenser novel, The Godwulf Manuscript...Parker makes his intention clear...his courtly knight will not age, wither or forsake his heroic mission. And that's not all. Hawk will always be scary. Susan will always be a beauty. And there will always be a dog named Pearl in the house...Without losing touch with the present—it doesn't get any more immediate than Spenser's nimbly choreographed shootout with three triggermen in Harvard Stadium—Parker surrounds his hero with reliable friends and familiar foes to renew their vows to the codes of misconduct that were laid down three decades ago."
The New York Times Book Review

"Spenser gets support with firepower and wisecracks from his superbad sidekick Hawk, as well as a brief helping hand from Paradise, Mass., police chief Jesse Stone...highlights include a shootout in an empty Harvard Stadium rendered in taut minimalism...enjoyable."

"For all its sparseness, Parker's writing is rich with respect for his readers. We are always informed of where Spenser and Hawk are in their investigation; often we are privy to the conversation in which they reach their conclusions, creating a superb sense of immediacy. Parker still entertains us with dabs of detail—in one scene, Hawk washes down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with champagne—but we also are alerted to approaching danger and how Spenser might escape. Sometimes, he does it all at once: In one chapter he gives us a summary, some visceral details, and a hint of a burgeoning threat—and it's only two pages long. But more than a tutorial on economical writing, Back Story is another masterwork of hard-boiled detective fiction by Parker, who is still awfully, awfully good."
Boston Globe

"Tense and taut...another satisfying trip with the best private eye in America."
The Tampa Tribune

"Well-written...A page-turner from start to finish...Back Story is just one more reason why Robert B. Parker is the modern dean of crime fiction."
The Anniston Star (local AL paper)

"As always, the character sketches are Ginsu-sharp, and the prose leaner than a George Foreman Grill'd steak...Bonus for Parker devotees: a crossover cameo by Paradise, Mass., police chief Jesse Stone, antihero of another of the prolific author's addictive series."

"Wisecracks galore, Nonstop action. Suspense. Memorable characters. Unexpected twists and turns. Robert Parker is the Ernest Hemingway of mystery writers...Readers end up wishing the stock market would yield as high a return as this book delivers in thrills and entertainment."

"It has been thirty years since the first Spenser book The Godwulf Manuscript was published and the series is still fresh, innovative and very entertaining. The hero might be a little older but he still has the same quirky sense of humor and the ability not to flinch when bullets are coming in his direction. Back Story is a fascinating who-done-it that is both believable and somewhat nostalgic. Robert B. Parker shows why his hero has become an American icon."
Midwest Book Reviews

"The 30th Spenser novel...reliably entertaining as its predecessors...Parker's roster witty irregulars who root out injustice is back to full strength."
The Sun (Baltimore)

"Parker has likely put his knight-errant in the way of every conceivable danger at least once. That, precisely, is the pleasure of Back Story. Never one to spend words freely, Parker has honed plot and prose to the finest edge...Three decades into the game, there's no doubt the man has his moves down."
Daily News

"Parker deftly mixes the familiar cast of characters with some relative newcomers, showing off Spenser's blend of violence and compassion...The snap-crackle-pop prose, witty dialogue and a tense chase/shootout in Harvard Stadium are vintage Parker, as crisp as new bills."
Orlando Sentinel

"These death threats provide a fine excuse for Hawk, Spenser's extremely scary (yet sensitive) bad-guy pal, to tag along in nearly every scene as bodyguard. The interaction of the two friends is one of this series' familiar pleasures, as is the presence of Susan Silverman, Spenser's longtime love interest. Another pleasure is Parker's stripped-down prose, a marvel of craftsmanship as smooth as 18-year-old Scotch."

"The setup on this Spenser is terrific...Agent Epstein is the best character among a strong cast that includes Hawk and, naturally, Susan, plus a puppy who replaces the much-mourned Pearl."

"His latest adventure...showcases the strengths of the series: well-developed characters, a deftly constructed plot, dialogue that is witty and crisp without sounding pretentious, evocative settings, and that Parker extra, a clearly defined and beautifully executed moral code...This Spenser moves...trademark Parker...A terrific addition to the Spenser canon."

"The perfect winter vacation book...I just love a happy ending."
Romantic Times

"Parker...a pro at suspenseful plotting...the real pleasure...has to do more with the authenticity of its locations...and the snappy, cryptic repartee."
The Santa Fe New Mexican

"More corpses and more action than in any Spenser novel in years...what makes this superior Parker is the moral dilemma."
The Boston Globe (reviewed by Richard Dyer)

"Breaking news: Robert B. Parker is back in full form. Spenser, Susan and Hawk have recovered wits and wit. Wisecracks snap, pop, crackle all the way. Flippancy flips as bullets fly...the book's genial mood, saucy tone and ripping action that discourage all attempts to put it down."
Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Fans of Robert Parker's spare prose, literary allusions, existential moral code, and familiar cast of characters will appreciate this book. His characters shoot guns, spout philosophy, and cook with equal skill."
The World Magazine

"In top in quick Spenser-Hawk dialogue, support from Susan...and well-wrought Boston-area scenery."
San Antonio Express-News

"A terrific addition to the Spenser canon."

"Spencer is still the top dog."

"This is superior Parker."
Boston Globe

"Spenser's back, just the way we like him."
New York Daily News

Buy the book

paperback | Putnam | 2003 | ISBN: 9780399149771



It was a late May morning in Boston. I had coffee. I was sitting in my swivel chair, with my feet up, looking out my window at the Back Bay. The lights were on in my office. Outside, the temperature was 53. The sky was low and gray. There was no rain yet, but the air was swollen with it, and I knew it would come. Across Boylston, on the other side of Berkeley Street, I saw Paul Giacomin walking with a dark-haired woman. They stopped at the light and, when it changed, came on across toward my office. They both moved well, like people who'd been trained. I'd have to see her close-up to confirm, but from here I thought the woman looked good. I was pleased to see that Paul was carrying a paper bag. I swiveled my chair back around and, by the time they got up to my office, I was standing in the doorway. Paul smiled and handed me the bag.

"Krispy Kremes?" I said.

"Like always," he said.

I put the bag on my desk and turned back and hugged Paul.

"This is Daryl Silver," Paul said.

"My real name is Gordon," she said. "Silver is my professional name."

We shook hands. Daryl was, in fact, a knockout. Eagle-eye Spenser. I opened the paper bag and took out a cardboard box of donuts.

"They haven't got these yet in Boston," Paul told Daryl. "So whenever I come home, I bring some."

"Will you join me?" I said to Daryl.

"Thanks," she said. "I'd love to."

"That's a major compliment," Paul said to her. "Usually he goes off in a corner and eats them all."

I poured us some coffee. Paul was looking at the picture on top of the file cabinet of Susan, Pearl, and me.

"I'm sorry about Pearl," Paul said.

"Thank you."

"You okay?"

I shrugged and nodded.


I shrugged and held out the box of donuts.

"Krispy Kreme?" I said.

The rain arrived and released some of the tension in the atmosphere. It rained first in small, incoherent splatters on the window, then more steadily, then hard. It was very dark out, and the lights in my office seemed warm.

"How did it go in Chicago?" I said.

"The play got good notices," Paul said.

"You read them?"

"No. But people tell me."

"You like directing?"

"I think so. But it's my own play. I don't know if I'd want to direct something written by somebody else."

"How's rehearsal going here?"

"We've done the play too often," Paul said. "We're having trouble with our energy."

"And you're in this?" I said to Daryl.


"She's gotten really great reviews," Paul said. "In Chicago, and before that in Louisville."

"I have good lines to speak," she said.

"Well, yeah," Paul said. "There's that."

With the rain falling, the air had loosened. Below my window, most of the cars had their lights on, and the wet pavement shimmered pleasantly. The lights at Boylston Street, diffused by the rain, looked like bright flowers.

"Daryl would like to talk to you about something," Paul said.

"Sure," I said.

Paul looked at her and nodded. She took in a deep breath.

"Twenty-eight years ago my mother was murdered," she said.

After twenty-eight years, "I'm sorry" seemed aimless.

"1974," I said.

"Yes. In September. She was shot down in a bank in Boston, by people robbing it."

I nodded.

"For no good reason."

I nodded again. There was rarely a good reason.

"I want them found."

"I don't blame you," I said. "But why now, after twenty-eight years?"

"I didn't know how to do it or who to ask. Then I met Paul and he told me about you. He said you saved his life."

"He might exaggerate a little," I said.

"He said if they could be found, you could find them."

"He might exaggerate a little."

"We lived in La Jolla," Daryl said. "We were visiting my mother's sister in Boston. My mother just went into the bank to cash some traveler's checks. And they shot her."

"Were you with her?" I said.

"No. The police told me. I was with my aunt."

"How old were you when your mother died?"


"And you still can't let it go," I said.

"I'll never let it go."

I drank some coffee. There were two Krispy Kremes left in the box. I had already eaten one more than either of my guests.

"Either of you want another donut?" I said.

They didn't. I felt the warm pleasure of relief spread through me. I didn't take a donut. I just sipped a little coffee. I didn't want to seem too eager.

"I remember it," I said. "Old Shawmut Bank branch in Audubon Circle. It's a restaurant now."


"Some sort of revolutionary group."

"The Dread Scott Brigade."

"Ah, yes," I said.

"You know of them?"

"Those were heady times," I said, "for groups with funny names."

I reached over casually, as if I weren't even thinking about it, and took one of the donuts.

"I can't pay you very much," she said.

"She can't pay you anything," Paul said.

"Solve a thirty-year-old murder for no money," I said. "How enticing."

Daryl looked down at her hands, folded in her lap.

"I know," she said.

"Awhile ago, I did a thing for Rita Fiore," I said to Paul, "and last week her firm finally got around to paying me."

"A lot?"

"Yes," I said. "A lot."

Paul grinned. "Timing is everything," he said.

"Does that mean you'll help me?" Daryl said.

"It does," I said.