DOUBLE DEUCE is a departure of sorts: For the first time, Spenser manages to go the length of a book without shooting or hitting anyone. Even Spenser’s ultra-violent sidekick Hawk gets to shoot just one bad guy (and doesn’t even kill him). While the relative lack of violence might strike some readers as refreshing, it reflects a serious flaw in the book’s plot, which centers around the efforts of Spenser and Hawk to rid a Boston housing project of the street gang that controls it. That such a goal could be accomplished without some serious violence seems more than a little improbable.
“Double Deuce” is the nickname of Twenty-two Hobart Street, a housing project controlled by the Hobarts, a gang of youths in the habit of shooting the kneecaps off anyone who stands up to them. Hawk and Spenser come to the residents’ rescue at the request of the Reverend Orestes Tillis, an Al Sharpton-style preacher and ghetto demagogue. Hawk, though, is restrained from using his customary violent methods by the growing empathy he feels for the young gangbangers, particularly for Major, the Hobarts’ twenty-year-old chief. In turn, the gang members come to admire Hawk, whom they regard as a role model. The resulting standoff brings the book’s action to a virtual halt and leads to an absurdly pat resolution that would seem more appropriate to the silly SPENSER TV show than to the much-praised series of novels.
DOUBLE DEUCE has most of the other features fans of the series have come to expect: lengthy descriptions of the gourmet meals Spenser concocts, plenty of chances for Spenser to quote from famous literature, and lots of jabbering from Susan, Spenser’s psychiatrist-girlfriend, about how wonderful and special Spenser and Hawk are. The book’s chief subplot concerns Spenser’s and Susan’s first attempt at living together; needless to say, it doesn’t work out.
Yet although the book has its weaknesses, it also has some real strengths. Parker has become a master at moving things along; the chapters in DOUBLE DEUCE seldom run more than two or three pages, and the narrative zips forward even when the action lags. Parker also renders the street language of the gang members convincingly (though it’s disconcerting to hear Spenser talk about having to “dis” someone). Mostly, however, it’s the pleasure of spending a few hours with Parker’s familiar characters that fans of the series will enjoy; on that level, DOUBLE DEUCE is certain to be a success.