Robert B. Parker’s literary protagonist, Boston detective Spenser, is brave, witty, strong and smart, with a streak of impregnable integrity and a stubborn determination to do the right thing. Through almost 40 novels, Parker has given us glimpses of Spenser’s past, but his newest novel, Chasing the Bear, takes us back to an incident that molds the boy into the man he would become.
As a teenager growing up in Laramie, Wyoming, Spenser is raised by his father Sam, and his two uncles, Patrick and Cash. An all-male household means a lot of testosterone-influenced activities, including boxing and hunting. But the three men also try to expose their young kin to the classics (like Shakespeare and Milton) and encourage him to do what’s right. These lessons come into play when Jeannie, a friend from school, is taken upriver against her will by her abusive, alcoholic father, and Spenser has no choice but to follow them in a small, rickety skiff. The choices he makes in trying to rescue Jeannie will have repercussions both in the short term and for the rest of his life.
Chasing the Bear will appeal to teen readers in much the same way the Spenser mysteries appeal to adults. Spenser’s wit, strength and moral rectitude serve as a stand-in for the way we want ourselves to be. He’s the quintessential hero, and we all need a hero, no matter what our age.