Bad Business

by Robert B. Parker

A Spenser Novel

A cheating husband and a wayward wife provide Spenser with an unconventional and dangerous surveillance job.

When Marlene Cowley hires Spenser to see if her husband, Trent, is cheating on her, he encounters more than he bargained for: Not only does he find a two-timing husband, but a second investigator as well, hired by the husband to look after his wife. As a result of their joint efforts, Spenser soon finds himself investigating both individual depravity and corporate corruption.

It seems the folks in the Cowley's circle have become enamored of radio talk-show host Darrin O'Mara, whose views on Courtly Love are clouding some already fuzzy minds with the notion of cross-connubial relationships. O'Mara's brand of sex therapy is unconventional at best, unlawful—and deadly—at worst. Then a murder at Kinergy, where Trent Cowley is CFO, sends Spenser in yet another direction. Apparently, the unfettered pursuit of profit has a price.

With razor-sharp characterizations and finely honed prose, this is Parker writing at the height of his powers.


"Parker still runs at the front of the private-eye pack."

"Lots of action...Delectable images of Paris create an ideal backdrop for 48 hours of kisses and croissants."

"God's gift to the Boston crime scene...Parker thickens the plot with a master's patience, producing some satisfying unexpected twists."
Kirkus Reviews

"Robert B. Parker is in a mellow mood...which means that his Boston private eye cracks more jokes than heads...But if the villains in this piece aren't worth the trouble to beat up, Spenser has his hands full with his client."
The New York Times Book Review

"Parker keeps the dialogue snappy, Spenser's sexy banter with his psychiatrist girlfriend adding spice to an already kinky whodunit. B"
Entertainment Weekly

"In his 31st Spenser novel, Parker pits the zinging detective against a high-flying Massachusetts company...Bad Business makes for a juicy read...One quibble: Does Spenser have to be so faithful and incorruptible? He's so perfect he kills half the suspense."

"Parker...delivers another combination of wry satire and sly action in his thirty-first mystery starring Spenser, the Boston private eye...he employs to devastating effect one of his signature devices—an observation on how someone dresses or walks into a room, or a few lines of dialogue between the victim and his hero—to fillet the greed and arrogance of corporate types...Parker still runs at the front of the private-eye pack."

"It's to Parker credit that good and evil are equal-opportunity conditions, and everyone has a chance and a choice."
Boston Globe

"Few fictional detectives are as endearing—or enduring—as Parker's Spenser, the Boston-based private eye whose intellectual bent and gift for snappy dialogue keeps this...delightful series cooking on gas...It's his best."
Tampa Tribune

"Parker is one of our best mystery writers...The dialogue retains its usual sparkle."
San Diego Union-Tribune

"It has been three decades since Robert B. Parker wrote the first Spenser novel and the series is as fresh, innovative and appealing today as it was then. The sublime but well written story line is fun to follow as private sleuthing seems like a lucrative business at least in the Boston a work of humorous prose and fantastic characterizations."
Midwest Book Review

"One of the finest gifts the first few months of a new year can bring is a new Spenser novel. Spenser and his creator, Robert B. Parker, have become...cultural institutions."

Buy the book

paperback | Putnam | 2004 | ISBN: 9780399151453


Do you do divorce work?" the woman said.

"I do," I said.

"Are you any good?"

"I am," I said.

"I don't want likelihood," she said. "Or guesswork. I need evidence that will stand up in court."

"That's not up to me," I said. "That's up to the evidence."

She sat quietly in my client chair and thought about that.

"You're telling me you won't manufacture it," she said.

"Yes," I said.

"You won't have to," she said. "The sonovabitch can't keep his dick in his pants for a full day."

"Must make dining out a little awkward," I said.

She ignored me. I was used to it. Mostly I amused myself.

"I always have trouble convincing people that any man would cheat on a woman like me. I mean, look at me."

"Unbelievable," I said.

"My attorneys tell me you are too expensive," she said. "But that you are probably worth it."

"The same could be remarked of Susan Silverman."

She frowned.

"Who the hell is Susan Silverman?" she said.

"Girl of my dreams."

She frowned again. Then she said, "Oh, I see. You're being cute."

"It's my nature," I said.

"Well, it's not mine," she said. "Do you want the job?"


"My attorneys will want a strict accounting of what you spend," she said.

"I'll bet they will," I said.

She was good-looking in kind of an old-fashioned way. Sort of womanly. Before personal trainers, and StairMasters. Like the women in Life Magazine when we were all much younger. Like she would look good in a small-waisted white polka-dot dress, and a huge straw hat with a white polka-dot band. In fact, of course, she was wearing a beige pantsuit and big pearls. Her reddish blond hair was long and thoroughly sprayed, and framed her face like the halo in a mediaeval religious painting. Her mouth was kind of thin and her eyes were small. I imagined cheating on her.

"I'm represented by Frampton and Keyes," she said. "Do you know the firm?"

"I don't."

"You'll do all further business through them. The managing partner is Randy Frampton."

"Why didn't you let them hire me," I said.

"I don't let other people make judgments for me. I wanted to look you in the eye."

I nodded.

"Do you have pictures of your husband?" I said. "Names of suspected paramours? Addresses? That sort of thing?"

"You can get all that from Randy."

"And a retainer?"

"Randy will take care of that as well."

"Good for Randy," I said. "Will he tell me your name, too?"

"I'd rather keep that confidential for now," she said. "This is a very sensitive situation."

I smiled.

"Ma'am," I said. "How long do you think it will take me to find out your name once I know who your husband is?"

"I . . ."

I smiled my sunny good-natured smile at her. I could melt polar ice caps with my sunny good-natured smile. She was no match for it.

"Marlene," she said. "Marlene Rowley. My husband is Trenton Rowley."

"How do you do," I said. "My name is Spenser."

"Of course I know your name," she said. "How do you think I got here?"

"I thought you looked up handsome in the phone book," I said. "And my picture was there."

She smiled for the first time that morning.

"Well," she said. "Maybe you are a little bit handsome in a rough sort of way."

"Tough," I said. "But sensitive."

"Perhaps," she said. "Will you speak with Randy?"

"Right away," I said.