Say what you will about Parker and Spenser, this series revitalized the whole PI genre in the 70s and influenced scores of other mystery/detective writers who came after and continue to this day. And the Spensers never lost their popularity or, quite literally, their punch. I never joined the ranks of Parker-bashers, although I'll admit to feeling for some time that the strongest entries in the series (MORTAL STAKES and PROMISED LAND get my vote) came early on. Nevertheless, all of the Spensers are exciting, laugh-out-loud funny in spots (usually exchanges of dialogue), and just plain entertaining.
The loss of Mr. Parker earlier this year left a great hole in the mystery genre community and he will be greatly missed.
If PAINTED LADIES is indeed the second-to-the-last Spenser we will ever see (SIXKILL, the final Spenser novel, is due out in May of 2011 and in between there will be a "holiday special" Spenser from Amazon that may or may not be a full-length novel) it is surely not a disappointment. It is somewhat more somber in tone than generally found in most Spensers and includes a bit more introspection directly from Spenser himself. This stems from the responsibility the PI feels for failing to prevent the death of a client who hires him as backup for a money exchange --- ransom being paid for the return of a stolen painting. After the client is killed (via explosion) Spenser's sense of obligation causes him to take the lead on the hunt for the killer, even though everyone around him keeps insisting he needn't blame himself, there was nothing he could have done differently at the exchange. This lone-wolf determination largely excludes many of the recurring characters we've come to know from previous books, primarily Hawk, who is out of the country on some kind of secretive job (possibly for the CIA, it is hinted). Hence the greater personal introspection and decreased exchanges of witty dialogue (the best of which usually take place with Hawk). Offsetting this, however, is a more complex mystery than we often get from Parker. There is plenty of action, too, including a particularly good one-on-one fight scene (with you-know-who coming out on top).
All in all, quite a respectful entry in the series.
Persevere --- WD