From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up—Parker's well-known detective hero, Spenser, reminisces to his beloved wife, Susan, about his Western childhood and workingman values bestowed upon him by his father and two uncles. The flashbacks derive from the lad's motherless household, in which Spenser is encouraged to throw punches at his uncles, who were accomplished boxers, and to learn how to defend himself against bullies. In another memory, young Spenser comes face to face with an angry black bear while bird hunting and stands his ground, though he is ultimately saved by his father's more powerful gun. This incident mentally prepares him for the dramatic tracking and rescue of a friend who was abducted by her abusive and alcoholic father. Parker's portrayal of Spenser's bravado in facing the bowie knife-wielding individual and escaping downriver is a compelling page-turner, and the man's demise shocking. This glimpse into the past explains much of the adult Spenser's backbone, though the stop-and-reflect method of storytelling may appeal more to adults than to teens who like their action uninterrupted, such as in his Edenville Owls
(Philomel, 2007). Parker's dialogue-driven style and spare vocabulary are comparable to Gary Paulsen's The Beet Fields
(Delacorte, 2000).—Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY
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It was really only a matter of time. Having limbered up with two previous YA novels, Parker now begins a series starring his detective hero, Spenser, as a teen. He frames the narrative by having an adult Spenser relating childhood stories to the love of his life, Susan, an unnecessary device that might simply keep teens reading at arm’s length. Addressing how his tough and upright personality developed, it turns out he was reared by three of the toughest and most upright guys in town, his father and uncles. The men teach the boy that there’s legal, and then there’s right, and that “If it’s not worth fighting about, then it’s not worth a lot of mouth.” And wouldn’t you know it, there’s plenty worth fighting about, and even at a young age Spenser has perfected the art of the steely gaze and terse response. The morality questions that he cuts his teeth on involve a violently alcoholic father and an epidemic of racial bullying but mostly provide an opportunity to buttress Spenser’s almost corny—but undeniably entertaining—notion of manliness. A clean, sharp jab of a read. Grades 7-10. --Ian Chipman