October 01, 2014

Review of Sixkill

Sixkill (Spenser)
By Robert B. Parker (Author)A bad-boy movie star named Jumbo pushes the limits of his reputation when he's accused of rape and murder. When the Boston PD calls on Spencer, he meets Jumbo's young bodyguard, Zebulon Sixkill, and the two form an unlikely alliance. It's a high profile case for Spenser, but the Hollywood secrets he uncovers are sordidly unsavory--and not just those of the accused...

Thank You, Mr. Parker
By Tom S. TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 3, 2011

The 39th Spenser mystery, SIXKILL, is a good one. Our hero investigates a rape/murder case on a Boston film location, and the suspect is the star of the movie, a monstrously spoiled matinee idol named Jumbo Nelson. Jumbo's outrageous antics always create headlines, not to mention headaches for his employers (sound familiar?). Spenser also gets to know Jumbo's bodyguard, Zeb Sixkill, an interesting young man who soon bonds with our hero. By the time they get to the bottom of the mystery, we've learned a lot about the Hollywood studio system, modern-day celebrity, and our own fascination with all things famous and/or notorious. And we get a lot of wisecracks from Spenser, whose observations are always hilarious.

Is this the end?
By Don In Fremont on May 3, 2011

A lot of stuff happens in Sixkill. It's a fairly action-packed and standard chapter of clearly the greatest series in the history of the genre. And it's also impossible, at this point, to talk about without the context of the author's passing early last year.

Sixkill is described on the flap as "the last Spenser novel completed by Robert B. Parker." ... Point being, we should take no finality poignance from the events in Sixkill, as it was clearly not meant to provide any. But poignant is exactly what Sixkill becomes. Its point is redemption/renewal and it's made in classic Parker style, going back to Early Autumn in more than one way in telling the story of one Zebulon Sixkill.

Z, as he comes to be called, is a Cree Indian bodyguard that Spenser puts a beat-down on while commencing the novel's case: the death of a young girl in Z's client's hotel room. Spenser is brought into the case by Capt. Martin Quirk, whom you've met.

Quirk is pretty sure that one Jumbo Nelson, Hollywood Miscreant/Icon, is being railroaded for murder, so he asks Spens to sniff around and see what stinks. Enter Rita Fiore, who happens to be defending Jumbo, and the stage is set for what Parker did better than just about anyone.

After Z gets canned by Jumbo for getting whupped, he consults Spenser, who agrees to help train him as a mechanism to among other things, get his help solving the case. Parker inserts episodes from Z's early years as Z and Spenser start training at Henry Cimoli's gym, among other locations. Of course, it's all about Z finding himself. And in Zebulon Sixkill, Parker creates a fascinating character, walled-off like a supermax prison. The fun in watching Spenser, with help from Susan Silverman, of course, re-introduce Z with his real self carries its own thrills.

There's plenty of regular thrills here as well. Parker stages a couple of great fist-fights and brings in some other new creepy dudes as well. Lots of cameos by the dangerous types who have helped Spens out in the past...except for, well, Hawk. Yeah, he's still in East Somewhere, so folks looking for those two hamming it up will have to look elsewhere. (Try A Catskill Eagle.) The last act moves really fast, with a gut-wrenching final showdown that's among Parker's best.

With Sixkill, Parker provides another solid chapter in the saga. Better than some, worse than others. No earth-shattering changes, and lots of Spenser/Susan navel-gazing. But it still feels great to read.

We miss him already.
Rob's comments

According to these reviewers, Sixkill supposedly reveals details of the Hollywood studio system, and the "Hollywood secrets." But these aspects of the story are nothing special. Any TV cop show tackling a Hollywood subject will give you the same thing.

The book is mostly about Spenser training Z and avoiding the hit men sent to quash the investigation. The fistfights, car chases, and gun battles are all standard stuff.

I wouldn't say Z was "fascinating" either. His story is also pretty standard. He's sent from a broken home to live with his grandfather, where he grows up to be the strong, silent type. He's recruited to play football and enjoys the perks of stardom--girls, drugs--but that ends with an injury. Tough but untrained, he becomes a bouncer and then a bodyguard for Jumbo the idol.

Parker's style keeps Z from becoming a cliche or stereotype, but he's familiar to readers of Native-themed stories. I'd say he qualifies as two-dimensional, if not three-dimensional. It's a typical case of "could be better, could be worse."

The one thing that's annoying is that about a quarter of Spencer's and Z's exchanges involve "Indian talk." By that I mean talking about stereotypical Indian concepts in stereotypical ways. Parker's point is to make fun of these stereotypes, but they're so trite and obvious that they come across badly. It's as if Parker really thinks this is the way Indians would talk--which is wrong.

A made-up example will show you what I mean:

SPENSER: Maybe you should lay off the firewater.

Z: Will I get in big heap trouble if I don't?

SPENSER: You know it, kemosabe.

Like other writers of Indians, Parker is trying to have it both ways: using the stereotypes to highlight Z's "Indian-ness" while mocking them. A real Indian might tolerate a couple of comments about a "vision quest" or "spirit animal" or "happy hunting grounds," but they'd get old fast. Eventually the Indian would say something like, "Knock off the Indian talk, pal. It's not funny or original, and it makes you sound ignorant. Like someone from a bad '60s TV show who doesn't know anything about Indians."

Despite this criticism, Sixkill is similar to the other Spenser books I've read. If you like the others, you should like this too. Rob's rating: 7.5 of 10.

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