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Spenser #31

Bad Business

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One of the great series in the history of the American detective story gets even better when Spenser is hired by a jilted bride to follow a cheating husband, only to cross paths with a detective hired to tail the two-timing wife. They aren't the most trusting couple in town, but as it turns out, they are the most dangerous.

336 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published April 1, 2004

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About the author

Robert B. Parker

317 books2,047 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database named Robert B. Parker.
Robert Brown Parker was an American crime writer. His most famous works were the novels about the private detective Spenser. ABC television network developed the television series Spenser: For Hire based on the character in the late 1980s; a series of TV movies based on the character were also produced. His works incorporate encyclopedic knowledge of the Boston metropolitan area. Parker was 77 when he died of a heart attack at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts; discovered at his desk by his wife Joan, he had been working on a novel. The Spenser novels have been cited by critics and bestselling authors such as Robert Crais, Harlan Coben and Dennis Lehane as not only influencing their own work but reviving and changing the detective genre.
Robert B. Parker was one of contemporary fiction's most popular and respected detective writers. Best known for his portrayal of the tough but erudite investigator Spenser, Parker wrote over twenty-five novels over the course of his career, which began in 1973. Parker's acclaim and his thorough background in classic detective literature helped earn him the somewhat unusual commission of completing a Philip Marlowe novel that the great Raymond Chandler had left unfinished.

Promised Land and the other Spenser novels spawned the movie Spenser: For Hire and a string of made-for-TV movies.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 329 reviews
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,962 followers
December 22, 2012
I knew that Robert B. Parker was phoning it in on a lot of these later Spenser books, but this one may be among the weakest and laziest of the bunch.

Spenser gets hired by Marlene Rowley to see if her husband Trent is cheating on her. After he follows Trent to a hotel liaison with another woman, Spenser finds another detective trailing the lady Trent hooked up with. Things get weirder when that PI tells Spenser that he’s seen a third detective watching Marlene. As usual in this series, someone winds up getting murdered, and Spenser thinks the key is to figure out who hired the other detectives. He discovers several connections to a radio talk show host who advocates open marriages.

However, RBP apparently thought that it was too much effort keeping track of all that so he shifted the focus to Trent’s company which is an energy broker. And this was written about the time Enron was folding. Take a guess as to where the story is headed...

Seriously, it seems like RBP started out with some ideas about multiple detectives trailing different people and tying it in with a wonky radio show host. There was some potential there, but then he just dumps the other detective characters about halfway through and comes up with some convoluted reasons for the talk show guy to have a connection to the energy company to go with a ripped from the headlines style plot. It almost made me wonder if he didn’t have half the book written when Enron imploded, and he just decided to use a current story rather than continue with whatever he had been originally thinking.

Plus, this one is just dull. There’s no action to speak of at all. Neither Spenser nor Hawk so much as punch a thug in the mouth. Almost every scene and bit of dialogue seems to have been something that RBP had written at least once before. And the Susan annoyance factor is extremely high. It feels like RBP was even bored writing it.

Next up: Hawk gets shot to pieces and Spenser helps him get revenge in Cold Service. I have the oddest sense of déjà vu for some reason….
Profile Image for William.
676 reviews335 followers
November 18, 2020
Terrific. One of his very best in every way.

Most reviewers don't think highly of this book, but I strongly disagree...

I think it's brilliant, almost a caricature of Detective Noir, with a set of femme-fatales, a mind-bogglingly confusing plot, an array of situations and characters from both Jungle Capitalism and Bedroom Farce genres.

The book starts with a seemingly dull task for Spenser, and bit-by-bit Parker escalates it into a "true hairball", then almost farce. The humour builds slowly, until in the last half of the book there are dialogue or situations which rip repeated giggles and often guffaws from the discerning reader on every other page.
“Here they are,” Freckles said. “State cops.”
The car door opened and Healy got out.
I said, “Evening, Captain.”
He looked at me for a moment.
“Oh shit,” he said.
“Oh shit?”
“Yeah. You’re in this.”
“So that means it’ll be a fucking mess.”
This book is very, very literate, with references to many classic and modern authors and their works. Don't be shy, when you see an obscure reference or phrase, look it up! It's truly worth the effort!

Of particular note is the climax wherein Spenser teases the villains into more and more heated revelations, "bringing the discussions to a slow and vindictive boil" to the reader's delight.

“What we have here,” I said, “is a roomful of culprits, with varying levels of culpritude.”

My favourite, chapter 47, involves the shameful discovery of videotapes and a range of sex toys, "ick!" which had me laughing out loud.

A hidden gem of a book, an excursion into literate humour by Parker, a gentle caricature of his amazing detective oeuvre. This is Spenser brought to a new level of fun, almost burlesque. Totally delightful.

(The word "maroon" appears 4 times in this novel)

Notes -
90.0% ".... "The Kinergy board of directors, as far as I can see, would have approved compulsory pederasty if urged by Trent and Bernie.”

70.0% ... hilarious chapter with videotapes and sex toys ... ick

50.0% ... Me too .... "I was making my own version of moussaka, with zucchini and onions and peppers and no eggplant. I hate eggplant."

41.0% ... it occurs to me that one of the central elements of Parker's worship of Joan is BADINAGE.... It's a wonderful dance for them.
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.9k followers
April 3, 2019

This 31st entry in the Spenser series takes its inspiration from a notorious American scandal, the collapse of the Enron energy corporation in 2001. Parker doesn’t wade too deep into the economic weeds—just a brief introduction to sketchy accounting practices to keep the reader up to speed—and adds a large dose of corporate wife-swapping just to keep things interesting.

Spenser, hired by Marlene Cowley who is convinced her husband is cheating on her, begins to follow Trent Cowley, and discovers Mrs. Cowley is right: Trent is cheating on her with a woman from Kinergy, the large successful energy company Trent works for. But Spenser discovers something else: that woman is being shadowed by another private detective, and the woman’s husband (who also works for Kinergy) has a private eye tailing him too. Soon he finds himself deep in corporate scandal, so deep he has to hire an accountant to help him figure things out.

Some of the usual things Spenser readers expect are here: Susan, Pearl II the Wonder Dog, Healy, Belson, Quirk, Hawk, and Vinnie. Two of the novels characters are particularly interesting: 1) the glad-handing CEO whose speech is crammed with banal genialities, and 2) the radio talk show host who gives romantic advice inspired by the principles of the medieval courtly love tradition.

All in all, this is pretty good for a later Spenser. I even liked the parts where he explained the shady accounting.
Profile Image for Brian.
321 reviews59 followers
November 18, 2020
This Spenser novel, the thirty-first in the series, did not engage me much at first. Spenser is hired by the attractive but shallow Marlene Rowley to get evidence that her husband is cheating on her. It’s a run-of-the-mill divorce case. The work is dull, but the pay is good (especially considering that Spenser's fee for his last case, recounted in Back Story, was a half dozen Krispy Kreme donuts). So I’m thinking this case isn’t really worthy of Spenser.

But shortly after Spenser gets into the case, he finds that another private detective is tailing the husband’s lover, and yet another is conducting surveillance on Marlene. As Susan Silverman describes it, it’s a “gaggle of private detectives.” Maybe there’s something more than suspicion of marital infidelity involved? Murder and financial shenanigans, maybe? Ah, that’s more like it. As Spenser says, “What had begun as a no-brainer of a divorce tail was showing every sign of turning into a hairball.”

The plot of Bad Business is quite complex, with colorful characters and a lot of moving parts. It kept me guessing most of the way. It kept Spenser guessing too: “My head felt overtaxed. I was thinking too much about too much and concluding too little. I wasn’t used to it. I was much more adept at thinking too little and drawing conclusions from no information.”

Fortunately, Spenser has Hawk at his side to help him with the legwork. (Hawk does not appear until almost the halfway point in the book—and it’s no surprise to me that I enjoyed the second half of the book more than the first.) And he has Susan to bounce ideas off of as he develops a theory of the case. In my opinion, this book has one of the best denouements in the series, as Spenser and Hawk gather the suspects in a room and sort things out. (It reminds me of the way Nick Charles typically reveals the murderer in the Thin Man movies.)

I was going to say that the Susan and Pearl the Wonder Dog annoyance factors were relatively low, but then Susan had to spoil it all in the last chapter when she decides to take Pearl for a walk and says in her inimitably precious way, “‘I’ll stroll the baby about.’” Just take the darn dog for a walk, like a normal person.

But Susan and Pearl aside, this is an excellent Spenser mystery. A complex plot that develops out of a seemingly simple assignment, interesting and entertaining characters, great banter between Spenser and Hawk, and lots of literary references and philosophical musings from Spenser. Any Spenser fan is sure to enjoy it.
Profile Image for Mike.
792 reviews8 followers
March 9, 2019
"'My name is Spenser,' I said. 'To see Randy Frampton.' 'Concerning?' she said. 'I'm trying to establish if that's his first name or a descriptive adjective.'"

The wise cracking private eye from Boston returns to tail a hubby who may be straying, and his wife wants the proof if he is. Spenser dives into the bloodthirsty world of high finance, and this bunch is every bit as deceptive and ruthless as his street thugs.

Good story and action.
Profile Image for Jerry B.
1,394 reviews119 followers
August 20, 2014
As readers of the author’s complete Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall series, we now polish off just our third Spenser, of an astonishing set of 41, counting (currently) two additional novels written for Parker’s estate by Ace Atkins. We of course note the many similarities between the three series, with likable protagonists who are smart, resourceful, and witty, with fun sidekicks like Hawk and Spike, and even “star” dogs like Pearl and Rosie. Two of the three are seeing shrinks for relationship issues, while Spenser himself is monogamously (despite a sharp eye for the ladies!) dating a psychologist, so we get a fair dose of “therapist” coaching in almost every tale. And they all have cops buddies, especially the “Statie” Healy.

We liked “Business” quite well, even though at times the plot advanced slowly due to a lack of clues or new developments. Spenser is hired to track an apparently cheating CFO husband, only to discover that so is the wife being followed, and so is another top exec associate of the CFO – and then the CFO turns up murdered. It takes our hero quite a while to discover a wife swapping and “free love” situation going on, abetted by a sleazy “love consultant” radio host. Moreover, something is amiss at the executives’ high-flying Enron-type energy firm that seems to be at the root of much of the intrigue. In the end, all becomes clear as Spenser and Hawk host sort of a Nero Wolfe gathering to pit villain vs. villain and eventually explain all. We thought this Spenser was definitely fun enough to salt the remaining 38 (!) into our reading schedule!
Profile Image for Bill Riggs.
460 reviews6 followers
April 21, 2023
A simple divorce case leads Spenser down a path of murder, wife-swapping, corporate greed and deadly intrigue. Spenser wisecracks his way through this modern noir mystery. Highly entertaining, with terrific characters and an interesting and involving storyline. You can’t go wrong with one of Parker’s Spenser novels.
Profile Image for Brent Soderstrum.
1,455 reviews18 followers
December 30, 2016
In Parker's 31st Spenser book he covers sex, greed, wife-swapping, a sex guru, hidden debt and killings. That is a lot of stuff in one book.

Spenser is hired by a wife to follow her husband around who works at Kinergy to find out if he is cheating on her, and if so, with who. While doing so he runs into another detective who was hired by the husband of the lady who the first husband is cheating on. Then he finds out his client is being followed by another detective to find out if she is cheating on the husband. Lots of cheating going on. Then the husband gets killed.

Everyone involved is somehow connected to Kinergy. Lots of sexual adventures are going on there and it all seems to be being promoted by the top dogs at the place. Plus the company appears to be doing great financially but Spenser suspects that the company is not doing as good as it appears.

Kinergy sounds like a great place for a holiday party. The holiday bonus might not be what you would traditionally think they would be. Employees also appear to be doing more under the mistletoe then kissing. The employee benefit package sounds arousing.

Some twists and turns which I always enjoy. Good Hawk and Spenser banter.
Profile Image for Clark.
673 reviews20 followers
March 17, 2019
One Spenser story every now and then is good for the soul.
Profile Image for LJ.
3,159 reviews311 followers
September 5, 2007
BAD BUSINESS (Private investigator) – G+
Robert B. Parker – 31st Spenser
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2004 – Hardcover
Spenser is hired by Marlene Crowley to find out whether her husband, an executive with Kinergy, is cheating on her. But when he finds Marlene is being watched by a fellow PI hired by her husband, and the woman with whom Marlene’s husband is having an affair, is being watched by a third investigator, Spenser decides to find out what is really going on. What Marlene’s husband is murdered, then the head of security for Kinergy, it’s clearly more than a case of wife swapping.
*** This was an interesting Spenser as there was must less violence and much more investigation. All the gang is there, but in more realistic roles, although the descriptions of watching Susan eat drives me crazy. The strength is definitely the pacing, characters and excellent dialogue. You are always assured of a few, highly-enjoyable hours with one of Parker’s books.
281 reviews14 followers
July 31, 2023
One of the later Spenser novels, this one starts off with a big laugh on the first page and keeps going. It's funny and fast-paced, and the plot itself is almost secondary to the tightly written, quick witted dialogue. Appearances are made by all the long-standing characters - Susan, Hawk, Quirk, Belson, Healy, and none of the later ones - Lee Farrell, Tedy Sapp, Chollo etc. It had the feel of the original, brilliant novels, with none of the baggage of the Spenser - Susan relationship that weighed things down for awhile. Highly recommended.
113 reviews1 follower
September 22, 2014
Parker is an addiction. I only add his books to my Goodreads list so I can keep track of which ones I have actually read, and I don't purchase/reserve a duplicate!

We all need authors like Robert Parker -- with fun characters, snappy dialog, short chapters, and interesting cases -- in order to mix them in with headier reading.

Kinda like comfort food for the mind, rather than spending too many hours in front of the television.

646 reviews6 followers
February 26, 2016
The first half of the book was definitely weak. Spenser was basically a bully intimidating everyone he came across by his size. And Susan seemed to be particularly grating. And then at the mid-point, Hawk and Vinnie and a smart-ass CPA showed up and the whole writing style changed. It was almost as if he wrote the first half, put it away for a year, and then started working on it again. For Spenser fans only.
Profile Image for Carol .
914 reviews
March 31, 2013
I very seldom, well never, read a book more than once. Robert Parker with his Spencer series is an exception to my rule.....Spencer a Boston P.I. takes on a simple divorce case which turns into a case of depravity and corporate corruption. I will miss Robert Parker with his never aging Spencer and his beautiful Susan along with Hawk and always a dog named Pearl....
1,998 reviews11 followers
September 20, 2019
Parker just keeps turning them out. This is the thirty-first installment of the Spenser series which continues to engage its loyal readers. This time it appears Spenser is about to take on one of those routine requests which helps fund his business when he is approached by a woman who wants him to follow her husband. Marlene Rowley is furious at her husband Trent who she believes is cheating on her. He is the CFO of Kinergy, a successful energy broker and a well known profit making machine. She makes it very clear exactly what she wants, pictures of him with his pants down, graphic evidence she can present in court to embarrass him. She is wealthy, ready to pay whatever his price and demands quick results.

Spenser has no difficulty catching Trent Rowley in a compromising situation but when he discovers other private detectives following top Kinergy spouses, including Trent Rowley who has hired someone to follow his wife Marlene, he becomes curious. As a matter of professional courtesy, the private investigators acknowledge what each is doing and pool their information. What emerges is what looks like a complex arrangement of wife swapping. Is this a game of who catches who first, files for divorce and gets most of the assets? What is going on??

Spenser has completed his assignment. He was hired to do one thing and he has done it. He can tell Marlene he has the goods on her husband, can collect his fee and move on, but readers know that is not his nature. When he picks something up he can’t understand, he won’t put it down until he does. He is a hound for the truth.

Then things change when a dead body is discovered. Trent Rowley was shot in his office, an event that brings in Captain Healey and the state boys for a murder investigation. Marlene, knowing the spouse is always a suspect, extends her contract with Spenser and asks him to clear her name. Spenser agrees and as he turns his attention to his new mission, two other events occur. The other private investigators disappear and the body of another Kinergy employee has turns up.

Spenser tries to understand the interesting arrangement of top executives at Kinergy, meeting CEO Bob Cooper, largely an absentee landlord whose real goal is a seat in the senate and later the presidency and COO Barry Eisner and his wife Ellen. There are three others closely associated with this group: the Director of Security Steve Gavin who appears to have his hands on everything that goes on at Kinergy, popular radio talk show host and hanger on Darrin O’Mara, a sleazy guy with questionable beliefs and an unconventional interpretation of courtly love and the VP for Development Adele McCallister, a woman who wants everything the men want and then wants to rub it in their noses when she gets it. As dead bodies appear Spenser becomes immersed in a volatile mix of predatory sex and financial wizardry with a serial killer stirring the pot.

Most of the characters in this outing are simply sketched and don’t elicit our interest or sympathy except for Marlene Rowley, a wealthy angry woman who only talks about herself and how beautiful and incredibly smart she is. Her tirade about the number of company dinners she ran for her husband, the hours she spent making chit chat with his friends, the days she spent at the spa to look good, all paint a picture of a woman scorned, abandoned for a younger more beautiful replacement. She believes her husband is a jerk, someone who would be running a hardware store if it weren’t for the effort she made to get him to the top and keep him there. What makes this character memorable is how it shows Spenser’s ability to slowly but effectively deflate her giant ego as he gathers information about the job she has offered him, which he makes clear he may or may not accept.

This is a different Spenser novel with much less violence and weighted more heavily on the investigative side. Parker has done a fine job of explaining some of the deceptive accounting that can lead an unsuspecting company down the garden path. Mort Siegal who touts himself as “the best accountant in the world”, helps Spenser and readers understand those complex financial machinations, aptly demonstrating Parker’s ability to reduce the complex into something simple that everyone can understand. Spenser, true to his nature, ends up in his usual place, with lots of information but unable to understand what it all means and what is really going on.

Parker includes all the usual elements on these pages, Spenser’s witty dialogue, words of dedication to the love of his life Susan Silverman, Pearl the Wonder Dog and even Hawk who appears with his latest paramour Cecile, the thoracic surgeon who both lend a helping hand. I must say I am becoming someone annoyed at the number of times we must endure a description of Susan eating, but it is all part of the package. Readers endure that to get the trademark humor, excellent dialogue and the strong pacing that make a Spenser novel enjoyable. It all ends in a scene reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel, with everyone sitting in a crowded room questioned by Spenser as he exposes the culprit.

Although this is not one of my favorites in the series, once again Parker has given readers a few pleasant hours with a comfortable and entertaining read.
Profile Image for Scott A. Miller.
522 reviews17 followers
March 6, 2020
Just average. But with Spenser, Hawk and the rest of Parker’s characters, average is still pretty good.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,584 reviews79 followers
February 4, 2010
I thought I had read all of Parker's novels, and with his passing, had lost interest. His family or estate seems to have sought out several authors to continue writing novels based on Parker's characters, but having read a couple of them, they are but a shadow of the man's own writing, IMHO.

While visiting my daughter and new grandchild, I was browsing the used book section at a local thrift shop when I ran across Bad Business, and to my surprise, it was a Parker original that I had not read. So, I picked it up for only $.20 and read it on the beach at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It wasn't among his best, but it was pretty good, and far better than the imitators. Full of neurotic and annoying clients, and loyal and manly hoodlums helping out their friend, the intrepid and literary detective, Spenser. Not to mention an Enron look-alike company, complete with criminally stupid C-level executives, insipidly amoral spouses, and venal "life consultants," all stirred together in a soupçon of greed and financial manipulation. Not remotely like the business people, consultants, and institutions with which I work regularly, but it would certainly appeal to the causal reader in search of a mystery about the scum of the business world.
June 15, 2007
Spenser finds the veteran Boston PI tackling corporate crime in a routine yet absorbing outing. As usual, Spenser enters the case at an angle, this time because he's hired by one Marlene Rowley to prove that her husband Trent, CFO of energy firm Kinergy, is cheating on her. Before long the PI learns that marital cheating is all the rage among Kinergy's players, with the hanky-panky orchestrated by radio personality Darrin O'Mara, who runs popular sex seminars on the side. Maybe all that cheating explains why Spenser keeps running into other PIs hired by Kinergy folk, but it doesn't point to why Trent is found shot dead at Kinergy headquarters. Spenser links Kinergy's slick founder/CEO to the sex ring and blackmails him to gain access to Kinergy's records, unveiling a pattern of accounting deceptions that reveal a company about to go under. There's less violence than usual in this Spenser novel but more detecting, which may explain why there's little of the PI's tough sidekick Hawk but much of his psychologist girlfriend Susan.
Profile Image for Daniel Marvello.
Author 8 books35 followers
October 25, 2011
The story in this book was reasonably interesting, but it didn't carry the sense of drama that Parker puts into some of his Spenser stories.

Although I do like the wry confidence of the main character, the lack of variation in the conversations he has with other characters starts to feel trite after a while. Particularly his conversations with Susan. Their bantering dialog is amusing here and there, but who really talks that way ALL the time? After a while, you almost find yourself rolling your eyes.

I'll keep reading Spenser books because I always find something worthwhile in them. But I do hope Spenser becomes a more complicated individual in future novels.
1,850 reviews10 followers
September 23, 2017
#31 in the wise cracking Boston private detective Spenser mystery series. What starts off a simple hire by a wife to discover and "get the goods" on what she suspects is her cheating husband quickly turns into something much more complicated. It involves murder, possible corporate fraud and even a dose of a self actualization. A case of interesting characters surrounding the mystery as well as the members of Spenser's "team."

Snappy dialogue and humor overlay a well crafted mystery that reads very quickly.
Profile Image for Holli.
577 reviews31 followers
September 12, 2015
An okay read, but more than a little frustrating as it seemed to be Spenser going around talking to everyone rather than what I've come to expect from the books. Kind of dull this time around. And I've really gotten seriously tired of the descriptions of how Susan eats and drinks. It's irritating. All right, she eats teeny tiny bites and barely sips anything. Hardly enough to keep a mouse alive. We get it. Enough already!
Profile Image for M.L. Bushman.
Author 18 books13 followers
November 11, 2008
I love Robert Parker's Spencer. And he's at his wisecracking best in this book.

The one liners are of such a caliber as to make me wish I'd wrote them. I laughed out loud several times, something I rarely do when reading even humorous material.

484 reviews4 followers
July 18, 2015
Love Spenser books. Lots of humor amidst the mystery. But he always gets it solved. His interaction with people is hilarious. Loved the book.
Profile Image for Evelyn.
1,242 reviews2 followers
May 1, 2018
NUMBER 31 weeee Isn't it awful when you have executives in a company that just never have enough money. Buying things "they" can't even afford, to impress people they don't even like !!!! Yes, that is what a lot of people do! I have problems sometimes with "wanting" a new car, but then cure myself by getting in Kelly's and pretending.

Page 29 . . . PEARL THE WONDER DOG II (only indication Pearl died, poor fur baby)

CHAPTER 63 --- THE best chapter in the book. It was so much fun reading this chapter because, you know, Spenser gets so much SATISFACTION, so does HAWK weeeeee

CHAPTER 64 --- you will just smile during this chapter . . .
October 8, 2018
Rereading a Spencer novel from a while ago helped clear my head after reading about contemporary politics in Fear.
Profile Image for Mack .
1,498 reviews52 followers
March 26, 2019
For Spenser, a rare Agatha Christie denouement. A fine read.
213 reviews1 follower
August 1, 2021
A well written story, but the tapestry tying the characters together was strained for me. Spenser and team are still great characters, but it felt like Connely was shoehorning them into a plot.
I still laughed. Frequently. And Spenser was solid. The ceo and others just didn’t resonate.
Not one of his greats. But still a fun read.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 329 reviews

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