I just finished listening to Robert Parker’s School Days on audiobook. This must be the 75th novel in the Spenser series…no, wait, let me look it up…ah, it only feels like the 75th, it’s actually the 34th.
So, with that out of the way, should you read it? Should you listen to it? The brief answer is yes. (An aside on the subject of audiobooks. Parker is one of those authors who is more effective when read aloud than silently. In other words, listening to his work is better than reading it. That’s partly because it’s light reading and doesn’t demand much concentration — a negative (in my view) in the case of a real book but definitely a positive in the case of an audiobook. Furthermore, since Parker paints characters with a broad brush, a competent actor can readily use distinguishing voices; nuances are not necessarily. The downside is that the continual use of “he said” and “she said” grates on the nerves when read aloud; they’re easier to skip over when you use your eyes than when you use your ears. I don’t like abridgements, but couldn’t the publisher just make a tiny alteration in the audiobook version: skipping the he said’s and relying on tone of voice to signal the presence of dialog?)
Anyway, by a strange coincidence, this is the second mystery I’ve listened to recently that was based on the Columbine massacre. It’s a coincidence because Columbine took place in 1999, whereas the two novels were written in 2005. Maybe it takes six years to develop enough distance. Anyway, as with the Lippman book that I reviewed exactly a week ago, a school shooting turns out to be something other than what it seems. School Days is engaging and interesting, taking place in a suburban town that reminds me of Weston, though it’s clearly meant to be a further-west exurb. (For instance, Spenser drives east to get to Framingham.) Maybe the town of Harvard? Anyway, the best thing about the book is the portrayal of the town, the private school where the shooting takes place, and various characters in the town, notable and otherwise. The only thing that bothers me is that two deaths in the book are presented much too casually, especially so since one of them is partly Spenser’s own fault and yet he shrugs it off. This doesn’t fit the concrete-over-the-abstract honor code that he always makes a point of following.