My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Godwulf Manuscript was the late Robert B. Parker’s debut Spenser novel in what turned out to be a series of more than thirty. Written in 1974, this book is very much a product of its times, just as are its classic predecessors in the hard boiled detective genre. Spenser is a smart, hard drinking, quirky wise guy who, sometimes annoyingly, has a quip for every situation he encounters, and he’s tough as the boots he wears. He’s also a gourmet cook.
Parker knew the city of Boston and its surroundings as well as any guide book, and he set this first outing at a large unnamed university, widely believed to be Northeastern on Huntington Ave. Spencer is called in by the bigwigs to locate a stolen 14th century manuscript, but the case quickly escalates into murder. He is drawn into the seamy web of Back Bay streets, making an occasional foray into ritzier neighborhoods. Spenser earned his chops in the school of hard knocks, and in his world, the rich are pretentious, arrogant, and basically useless.
As a novel, Godwulf is dated, but that is part of its appeal. Readers are transported into the decade before the technological revolution, and are treated to a veritable time capsule where political incorrectness abounds. Students are radical and use slide rules and typewriters. Spenser has no cell phone or internet, and is not at all worried about contracting STDs. One thing that hasn’t changed much, however, is the prevalence of drugs. The plot here is somewhat simplistic, a cinch to decipher, but this is a character-driven story, and the characters deliver.