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Parker's cast, as usual, includes the two mainstays of the series who, since Promised Land (1976), have been Spenser's closest allies: Hawk, the African- American mercenary who has been Spenser's closest friend and colleague, since Spenser allowed him to escape a police set-up in Mortal Stakes; and Susan Silverman, the Jewish psychologist with whom he has enjoyed a twenty year relationship. Although Susan has a Ph.D. from Harvard and enjoys a thriving business as a counseling psychologist, her contributions to this novel mainly concern support, advice, and love during Spenser's recreational moments. Her intellectual observations (aside from her ongoing assessment of Spenser) present some perceptive psychological commentary about the problems of Shirley Ventura and Bibi Anaheim. Moreover, in addition to working on their house with Spenser and dining with him, she accompanies Spenser on one of his trips to Las Vegas. In Vegas, Susan banters with Spenser and Hawk, loses a little money at gambling (as an experiment), shops a great deal, and introduces a new approach to her sexual relationship with Spenser by appearing in their bedroom nude except for a necklace and a pair of hand-painted cowboy boots. (Apparently, however, she is not yet willing to gratify his desire to see her in a garter belt.)

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However, Susan is also more directly involved in the case's action when she witnesses the attempt by Russian gunmen to shoot Spenser. The attack comes when Spenser and Susan are walking Pearl, their pointer, on Commonwealth Avenue. On orders from Spenser, Susan flees with Pearl, but activates a parked car's alarm, bringing police to the scene quickly. She then provides further assistance by serving as a witness for the dubious policemen, testifying that Spenser was acting in self-defense when he killed the two Russian hitmen. While the relationship between Susan and Spenser is not necessarily greatly deepened by these events, they do perhaps add to Susan's understanding since she is allowed to see Spenser in lethal action with a handgun while under attack.

By contrast, Hawk plays a major role in the action of Chance, helping in the search for Shirley's missing husband, Anthony Meeker, and accompanying Spenser to Las Vegas on the final trip. It is Hawk's presence that provides an equalizing force at the final confrontation in the parking lot: After Hawk has neutralized the gunmen hiding in the shack, Anaheim's Mexican gunman decides to depart, leaving the issue to a simple matter of a physical brawl (not following Marquis of Queensberry rules) between Spenser and Marty Anaheim. Although Hawk's role is a central one, not much new about Hawk's character is revealed by the novel.

The other familiar supporting members of the cast of the Spenser saga make cameo appearances, but with so much of the story's action taking place in Las Vegas, their roles are limited. Henry Cimoli, who runs Spenser's health club, appears briefly, and Sergeant Frank Belson of the Homicide Squad makes a brief appearance after the gunfight on Commonwealth Avenue. Vinnie Morris, Spenser's one time adversary but current friend, is now working for Gino Fish and also appears in a couple of insignificant scenes. Readers, however, are deprived of the sharply honed sarcasm of Captain Martin Quirk, Spenser's old ally on the Boston police, who played a major role in Paper Doll. In Chance, Quirk remains offstage and his customary function of offering wry and sardonic remarks about Spenser's success and failures is relegated to Hawk.

Spenser's old adversaries from the underworld also have cameo roles, notably Gino Fish, the homosexual racket boss, and Fast Eddie Lee, the head of the Chinese underworld. However, Tony Marcus, who heads the black underworld in Boston is absent in prison, his role being filled by a clownish lieutenant, Tarone Jessup. (In fact, it is the power vacuum left by Marcus's...

(The entire section contains 1806 words.)

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