Some of Robert B. Parker's most distinctive novels over the years (God Save the Child
, Early Autumn
, etc.) have centered on young people in trouble, so his return to that theme in Melancholy Baby
is hardly a surprise. What's more remarkable is how deftly he uses the case of an angry, confused college student searching for the facts about her family background as a means to pry open the hardly less troubled psyche of Boston private eye Sonya "Sunny" Randall, a character at serious risk of one day outshining Parker's better-known but less reflective gumshoe, Spenser
Twenty-one-year-old trust-fund kid Sarah Markham suspects that her parents aren't really related to her at all. "They can't find my birth certificate," she tells Sunny in amazement. "They dont remember which hospital I was born in." This isn't the sort of inquiry Sunny likes to take on, especially not now, when her ex-husband of five years, Richie Burke--whom she still hasn't given up loving--is marrying another woman. However, Sunny needs a distraction from self-pity, and she can see that "everything about Sarah and her parents seemed fraudulent ... like something that had been built on the cheap, with shoddy materials and no craft, to conceal something unhealthy and mean." As she tears at this façade, though, traveling to Illinois and New York City in order to expose secrets not only in Sarah's father's past but in the history of a holier-than-thou radio celeb, Sunny discovers that her client isn't the only person being kept in the dark. But is it worth destroying Sarah's sense of herself--not to mention attracting the malicious notice of well-armed thugs--to set the record straight? And can Sunny even accomplish this, while struggling (with help from Spenser's psychiatrist girlfriend, Susan Silverman) to understand why she's 37 years old and "just cant be married"?
Any halfway-conscious reader will spot the solution to this story's mystery from miles off, and Parker's use of central-casting figures--the hypocritical moralizer, the oleaginous but natty shyster--should earn him free admission to a "How to Create Credible Characters" seminar. Still, it's hard not to be charmed by a novel that's as willing as Melancholy Baby is to knock the pins out from under its protagonist, and see where the angst falls. At Dr. Silverman's rates, Sunny had better figure her life out soon. --J. Kingston Pierce
From Publishers Weekly
The title refers to two characters: Boston college student Sarah Markham, convinced that her parents adopted her, and Boston PI Sunny Randall, hired by Sarah to certify her parentage. Sarah is melancholy because her parents refuse to take a DNA test to settle the issue and seem furtive; Sunny, because her ex-husband, Richie, has just remarried. In this excellent fourth Sunny Randall PI tale (after Shrink Rap
), Sarah's sadness leads to murder, as Sunny's questioning of the parents results in one of their deaths at the hands of the person who would suffer most if the truth comes out. Sunny's own blues lead her to Dr. Susan Silverman and sessions on the couch that, however well observed, will have fans of Parker's PI Spenser who are terminally tired of Susan (Spenser's longtime girlfriend) gritting their teeth at her intrusion into another series. Still, Sunny's own regulars, particularly tough gay pal Spike, hold their own in the tale. There's little here that Parker hasn't done before, like his protagonist's side trip to New York and her tangling with venal lawyers and reptilian celebrities as well as Parker's sensitive exploration of the meaning of family and maturity and of the tension between self-reliance and love for another, but he does it so well here, with his impeccable prose and charismatic heroine, that fans will tremble with delight.
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