The latest Robert B. Parker novel, Hugger Mugger, finds our hero Spenser in rural Georgia, far afield from his home turf of Boston. For some obscure reason, someone has been killing racehorses belonging to Walter Clive, southern Renaissance man and all-around rich dude. Clive's stable houses Hugger Mugger, the horse touted as the next Secretariat, and Clive wants to ensure that no harm comes to the valuable two-year-old. Although a crack security company maintains a round-the-clock presence, Clive thinks Hugger Mugger needs the extra dose of protection offered by the Boston sleuth with only one name.

Upon arriving in Georgia, Spenser is the subject of a welcome party thrown by the Clive brood. Libations flow freely, and before the evening is out, Spenser has made several enemies. It seems that one of Clive's daughters has made a rather sloppy pass at Spenser (rebuffed by our hero who remains faithful to his sweet Susan at home in Boston). When the husband shows up, fueled by liquor and outrage, he takes his best shot at Spenser, and he too is rebuffed. Having established his credentials as a lover and a fighter, Spenser sets to work delivering on his credentials as a private eye. And fails miserably, for the next victim of foul play is not Hugger Mugger, but Walter Clive himself, his tanned figure in the corral, quite dead.

Relieved of his duties by the Clive family, a frustrated Spenser returns to Boston. He has not heard the last of Georgia, however, not by a long shot. His services are purchased, or at least rented, by the girlfriend of the late Walter Clive, an attractive woman of a certain age, who is chafing at having been left out of the will. Then, as they say, hijinks ensue.

Hugger Mugger is classic Parker, full of the wisecracking and action that one expects. The characters are colorful: a scorned wife who satisfies her amorous instincts at interstate truckstops, a pair of lazy husbands who drain the family fortunes almost as fast as they drain their toddies, and a sheriff who can be counted upon to look the other way concerning his wealthier constituents. Parker is on a 25-year roll with the Spenser series, and Hugger Mugger is a worthy addition to the list.

Bruce Tierney is a writer in Nashville.

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