The Judas Goat

The Judas Goat_RobertBParker_1430624

CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT

4 STARS

It’s 1976 and the Montreal Summer Olympics will be starting soon. But that is of no consequence to Spenser at this point. What is important is the job that the highly successful head of an international conglomerate, Hugh Dixon, has hired him to do. Dixon has retained Spenser as a bounty hunter.

Several months ago, Dixon’s wife and two daughters were killed in the terrorist bombing of a London restaurant. Dixon himself was made a paraplegic. Conscious throughout the entire ordeal, Dixon memorized the faces of the nine perpetrators, eight men and one woman. Now Dixon wants revenge – $2500 per head or $25K for the entire lot. And he doesn’t care if Spenser offers them up to the police dead or alive.

Supplied with pictures of the terrorists, Spenser leaves Boston for what could be an indeterminate time and he leaves Susan for the first time since they met. He’d rather not do either, but, for those readers who were not yet adults in 1976, $25K was a lot of money in those days. Add in a virtually unlimited expense account and Dixon’s verbal assessment of him as Captain Midnight, and Spenser knows what he needs to do.

It takes six days for Spenser to get a response to his ad in the London paper offering a reward for information on the bombing. And he spots the female terrorist who is waiting to see who picks up the message at the hotel desk. Upon checking out the location specified for the meet, Spenser discovers that it is a killing field, with no cover to protect him. And when he returns to his hotel room, that becomes a killing field, too.

Despite being shot the night before, Spenser shows up at the rendezvous point, albeit well disguised facially. He spots the female terrorist again, eventually sees her signal an unseen accomplice that the meet is a bust, and follows her home. Spenser knows that he has now found his Judas goat, the person who can lead him to the rest.

Spenser also knows that he needs help if he intends to stay alive. So he contacts Hawk, the free-lance and very successful enforcer and ex-prizefighter that we met in Parker’s last book. Hawk comes to London and the hunt resumes.

The terrorists know what Spenser looks like, but they don’t know about Hawk, or his appearance, or his mad skills. And it will take all three of those facts for Spenser and Hawk to survive as they travel from London to Copenhagen to Amsterdam to the Montreal Olympics, following the Judas goat to the source of the problem.

This is not a long book, only 181 pages in hardback, with a moderate font. But it is an intense book, ripe with descriptions that are full of scenery or emotion one minute and violence and psychosis the next. We get to see three European cities through Spenser’s literate eyes. We see both the professional and personal relationships between Spenser and Hawk solidify. We find Spenser less of a smart aleck in this book and Susan seems much more accepting of what he is and what he does.

What we don’t get in this book is an accurate depiction of the passage of time, and for that I have lowered my rating of the book. The start date is unclear; and while the initial days of the operation add up, the span between successive events becomes increasingly hazy. The next thing we know, the action has moved to the Montreal Olympics, which makes it July, and Spenser’s bullet wound has completely healed. Then, when we get to the last chapter, which appears to be somewhat of an epilogue, it is unclear if only days have passed since the final denouement or if it’s been weeks.

Time is part of reality. When time is not, or cannot be, accounted for easily, a person’s story becomes not only confusing but also a bit suspect. And this is truth whether a cop is eliciting an alibi from a person of interest, a parent is questioning a teenager who has missed curfew, or an author is writing a tale of suspense, terrorism and death.

Cover Art From Goodreads

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