What mystery fan hasn't heard by now that Robert B. Parker created his Sunny Randall series expressly for good friend Helen Hunt, with an eye toward the actress playing the petite blonde investigator on the silver screen? Although the series has been touted as a radical departure for Parker (a woman in the lead, by gum!), so strongly do Boston PI Sunny and her cohorts resemble Boston PI Spenser and his pals that the movie's casting director might prefer a blond-wigged Robert Urich. But Parker's quick quips, droll wit, and staccato dialogue are all on display in the latest Randall novel, Perish Twice, so in spite of the reworked characters, there's still plenty to enjoy.
When radical feminist Mary Lou Goddard hires Sunny to protect her from a stalker, Sunny accepts the case with some reluctance. After all, Goddard detests Rosie, Sunny's bull terrier, canine vacuum, and stakeout companion ("Rosie was in the passenger seat, staring out the side window, alert for the appearance of a strange dog at whom she could gargle ferociously."). It doesn't take Sunny long to track down and confront Lawrence Reeves, a particularly pestilential human being. But pestilence is no excuse for murder, so when Reeves and Gretchen Crane, one of Goddard's colleagues, are both found dead, Sunny dives into the murky waters of Boston's prostitution industry, where Reeves was a client and Gretchen was trying to unionize the workers. Politics and sexuality can be a nasty tangle, and the unraveling threads lead straight to mobster Tony Marcus's door. Tony may appreciate Sunny's sharp wit, but business is business: interference can--and does--lead to a bullet with her name on it. And as if all of this weren't enough, Sunny's sister and her best friend are in the throes of nasty divorces. Luckily, the leap from PI to marital counselor is well within Sunny's abilities.
While there's no doubt that rabid Parker fans will snap up anything the author turns out (and with reason), Perish Twice may be more appealing to new readers, for whom Sunny's charm will carry none of the uneasy echoes of private investigators past. --Kelly Flynn