Shrink Rap by Robert B. Parker
What the Back of the Book Has to Say:
Melanie Joan Hall is a best-selling author in a bind. Her publisher needs her on tour on behalf of her newest blockbuster, and Melanie Joan needs a bodyguard-cum-escort to protect her from an overbearing ex-husband whose presence unnerves her to the point of hysteria. Sunny Randall's cool demeanor, cop background, and P.I. smarts are an instant balm for the older woman. She begins to sense that Melanie Joan's ex (a psychotherapist) is not your basic stalker, and when an incident at a book signing leaves the ex-husband bloodied and the author unconscious, it's clear the stakes are high. Deciding that the only way to crack the case is from the inside, Sunny enters therapy herself, only to discover some more disturbing truths about herself ... while putting her life on the line.
Why I Picked It Up:
To be completely honest? It looked like it would fit easily in my purse.
What I Think:
When I grabbed Shrink Rap off the shelf, I did indeed notice the little "A Sunny Randall Mystery" above the author's name. Obviously this book was a part of a series and as the inside page listing his other works didn't tell me which books came before others in the series, I shrugged my shoulders and picked up the book anyway. This is something very un-me as I hate doing things out of order. I'm currently watching Series 2 of Never Mind the Buzzcocks as I want to watch the one airing this year, Series 24. However, the circumstances being what they are, I managed to shrug it off and grab the book anyway. After all, there must be plenty of people that will read a book without reading the ones that came before. Surely, the inglorious Mr. Parker would give me enough to sift through in the novel that I could figure out his characters regardless of my jumping in point.
Have you ever met a group of people where you could tell there was some deep underlying history but there was no way you were ever going to find it out-- all hidden meanings in their words and significant looks which you were never going to decipher? While, admittedly, this is a good atmosphere for a detective novel, you really shouldn't be feeling that way around your main characters. Parker, assuming the reader has read the previous two novels in the Sunny Randall series, gives you almost no background information on the characters you are supposed to be following around. Name dropping does not have the same effect when the other person can't place the name. Half the mystery should not be trying to figure out who exactly you're reading about.
Beyond that, the main problem of Shrink Rap is the plot itself; it presents itself as a mystery thriller when in reality, the entire novel could have been solved in twenty pages if one of the characters had simply spoken up in the beginning. A mystery, by definition, has to have something that needs to be solved, a missing fact or clue that, with its discovery, helps wrap everything together. This was simply a case of "Well, I was going to tell you eventually..." When you get through the whole novel to discover that one of the characters knew what was going on all along and simply didn't speak up, it ruins the mystique. Of course, if this were reality, the character's silence would make sense but in a novel, it takes away any dramatic tension in an obvious ploy to make the actual focus of the story not the "mystery" itself but its subplot.
This magical plot point is Sunny, our main character who is so painfully quirky that she grates annoyingly, going to therapy with our villain, undercover. I suppose, if you truly cared about Sunny, or indeed, if you knew much about her at all, this might have been an interesting subplot. She kept accidently letting the therapy get through to her and would worry herself incessantly about the issues she was discovering. Honestly, coming at it from perhaps the most impartial of standpoints, I think I could have told her those things to begin with. What is meant to be a deep psychological look at our main character just tends to make her further unlikeable.
I will admit, once I figured out who he was, I did take a liking to Sunny's best friend Spike, who was a very original take on the sweet but badass sidekick. It was a very strange introduction in this novel, though, as Parker once again assumes I know that Spike is a large burly gay waiter with a heart of gold and a penchant for beating people up. I don't know about you but that's not exactly a personality that I jump to when a new character is introduced and it took me awhile to figure out who this was. He definitely turned out to be a breath of fresh air, however, in a novel full of people who took everything very seriously, including their image as "original" and "fresh-faced."
The little bit of Google research I have done on this book has taught me that Robert B. Parker is actually a really well respected mystery writer who's been putting out books since the late seventies, his main detective being a character by the name of Spenser. Actually, apparently the character of Sunny Randall herself was created at the request of Helen Hunt, who wanted Parker to write a character for her to play in a movie (which, obviously, did not pan out). All I can figure is that I jumped into the pool at the wrong end. Perhaps if I had started with a Spenser novel or even the first Sunny Randall, my relationship with Parker might be different. But, like many things in life, this is how the world works and now we shall never know...