For any writer working with a continuing character, there are bad days and good. Not all the Sherlock Holmes stories are uniformly sharp, and there are times when one wishes Philip Marlowe had avoided the mean streets and stayed home with his book of chess problems.
Among more modern writers, the quality of Robert B. Parker's novels about the Boston detective Spenser varies more than in most series. In particular, Spenser's fawning admiration for his girlfriend, therapist Susan Silverman, becomes tiresome, and his sidekick Hawk can be too like a sable Superman for credibility.
None of these criticisms apply to PROMISED LAND (1976) or LOOKING FOR RACHEL WALLACE (1980). In fact, I rate the latter as the best of the series, and one of the most satisfying crime novels of the last half-century.I believe Hawk makes his first appearance in PROMISED LAND, but he's a Hawk in the rough; a leg- breaker employed by a loan-shark to menace late-payers. In the course of the book, we see the beginning of a friendship that will continue through the series.
Hawk doesn't appear at all in LOOKING FOR RACHEL WALLACE, and the book is the better for it. Spenser is forced to contend alone with belligerent feminist and lesbian writer Wallace, whom he's asked to bodyguard. Parker skilfully contrasts her more supple values of non-violence with Spenser's knightly sense of obligation to the weak and helpless, although when Wallace is kidnapped, old-fashioned thuggery wins the day. For once, Susan is more than a madonna to be revered and Spenser, required to define his relationship to women, shows his intellectual side, often submerged in later books under routine machismo.
Landscape too gets more imaginative use in these books than in later novels. PROMISED LAND takes place during summer in the up-market dormitory and resort towns of the northern Atlantic coast, while LOOKING FOR RACHEL WALLACE is set in snow-bound Boston, and comes to its satisfying climax in the aftermath of a blizzard, during which Spenser must walk many miles to his confrontation with the forces of evil. Galahad at least had a horse!