If you read Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels, have you wondered how Spenser developed his code of ethics? How did he become the unusual man he is? Parker answers that question in a novel designed for teens, Chasing the Bear. For teens interested in mysteries, it's an interesting introduction to the entire series. For those of us who have read all of the Spenser books, it answers questions.
While sitting in the Boston Public Garden one day, Susan Silverman, Spenser's long-time love, asks him about his youth. He reminds her that his mother died when he was born. He was raised by his father and his mother's two brothers, Cash and Patrick, all carpenters. The three men lived together, with a dog named Pearl. They all took care of each other. The men taught him to box, read to him every night, and, in their quiet ways, taught him, "There's legal, and there's right." And, they always had each other's back, just as Spenser and Hawk would watch out for each other in Spenser's adult life.
These three men made Spenser feel important, even as a boy. Those lessons, and Spenser's stories of the year he was fourteen, show the man he would become. At fourteen, Spenser became protective of a classmate, a girl who was dragged off by her brutal, drunken father. Spenser rescued her, and later, stood up for a Mexican friend against bullying kids.
Spenser's stories of his youth foreshadow the man he becomes, a man with a code of ethics, who stands up for the underdog, and defends women. And, his anecdotes about the reading his uncles and father did shows why he has an eclectic knowledge of literature.
Spenser fans should find this an important novel, one that provides the background for a favorite character. And, Chasing the Bear, is an interesting introduction for teens. It has suspense, quiet lessons about bullying and sticking up for the underdog, and introduces a fascinating knight errant, with a code of conduct. But, most of all, I recommend Chasing the Bear to those of us who are already fans of Spenser. It's one more reason to admire a favorite character.
Robert B. Parker's website is www.robertbparker.net
Chasing the Bear by Robert B. Parker. Penguin Group (USA), ©2009. ISBN 9780399247767 (hardcover), 176p.