Details of Robert Parker's latest Spenser book, Hundred-Dollar Baby, have been released. In a nutshell, Spenser once again comes to the aid of April Kyle (cf. Ceremony, Taming a Sea-Horse). One more favor Spenser does for a friend, prompting one of Parker's staunchest supporters on Spenser's Sneakers to admit that Parker may be running out of steam.
I think it's fair to say Spenser has run out of steam. Has any single protagonist stayed fresh and entertaining over a thirty-year period at the pace of a book a year?
Parker is able to sell Spenser today because readers have grown comfortable with him. Parker can no longer take chances with Spenser or his world if he is to maintain readers' comfort. As a result we have the Spenser books of the past few years, wherein problems arise, persist for 250 pages or so, and go away.
"Spenser, you devil. You've done it again."
Family Honor (1999) may have borrowed heavily from Early Autumn (1981), but it also had to be different because Sunny Randall was not Spenser. And while critics may have called her "Spenser in drag," the point is that Parker was trying to be different.
Another key factor: In the beginning, Parker had to be more meticulous about each book as he was trying to build a solid reputation/body of work. Today, with his rep established, each new book matters less, particularly in the Spenser series.