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The Godwulf Manuscript (The Spenser Series Book 1) Kindle Edition
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse. It was paneled in big squares of dark walnut, with ornately figured maroon drapes at the long windows. There was maroon carpeting and the furniture was black leather with brass studs. The office was much nicer than the classrooms; maybe I should have worn a tie.
Bradford W. Forbes, the president, was prosperously heavy—reddish face; thick, longish, white hair; heavy white eyebrows. He was wearing a brown pin-striped custom-tailored three-piece suit with a gold Phi Beta Kappa key on a gold watch chain stretched across his successful middle. His shirt was yellow broadcloth and his blue and yellow striped red tie spilled out over the top of his vest.
As he talked, Forbes swiveled his chair around and stared at his reflection in the window. Flakes of the season’s first snow flattened out against it, dissolved and trickled down onto the white brick sill. It was very gray out, a November grayness that is peculiar to Boston in late fall, and Forbes’s office seemed cheerier than it should have because of that.
He was telling me about the sensitive nature of a college president’s job, and there was apparently a lot to say about it. I’d been there twenty minutes and my eyes were beginning to cross. I wondered if I should tell him his office looked like a whorehouse. I decided not to.
“Do you see my position, Mr. Spenser,” he said, and swiveled back toward me, leaning forward and putting both his hands palms down on the top of his desk. His nails were manicured.
“Yes, sir,” I said. “We detectives know how to read people.”
Forbes frowned and went on.
“It is a matter of the utmost delicacy, Mr. Spenser”—he was looking at himself in the glass again—“requiring restraint, sensitivity, circumspection, and a high degree of professionalism. I don’t know the kind of people who usually employ you, but …”
I interrupted him.
“Look, Dr. Forbes, I went to college once, I don’t wear my hat indoors. And if a clue comes along and bites me on the ankle, I grab it. I am not, however, an Oxford don. I am a private detective. Is there something you’d like me to detect, or are you just polishing up your elocution for next year’s commencement?”
Forbes inhaled deeply and let the air out slowly through his nose.
“District Attorney Frale told us you were somewhat overfond of your own wit. Tell him, Mr. Tower.”
Tower stepped away from the wall where he had been leaning and opened a manila file folder. He was tall and thin, with a Prince Valiant haircut, long sideburns, buckle boots, and a tan gabardine suit. He put one foot on a straight chair and flipped open the folder, no nonsense.
“Carl Tower,” he said, “head of campus security. Four days ago a valuable fourteenth-century illuminated manuscript was stolen from our library.”
“What is an illuminated manuscript?”
Forbes answered, “A handwritten book, done by monks usually, with illustrations in color, often red and gold in the margins. This particular one is in Latin, and contains an allusion to Richard Rolle, the fourteenth-century English mystic. It was discovered forty years ago behind an ornamental façade at Godwulf Abbey, where it is thought to have been secreted during the pillage of the monasteries that followed Henry the Eighth’s break with Rome.”
“Oh,” I said, “that illuminated manuscript.”
“Right,” Tower said briskly. “I can fill you in with description and pictures later. Right now we want to sketch out the general picture. This morning President Forbes received a phone call from someone purporting to represent a campus organization, unnamed. The caller said they had a manuscript and would return it if we would give a hundred thousand dollars to a free school run by an off-campus group.”
“So why not do so?”
Again Forbes answered. “We don’t have one hundred thousand dollars, Mr. Spenser.”
I looked around. “Perhaps you could rent out the south end of your office for off-street parking,” I said.
Forbes closed his eyes for perhaps ten seconds, inhaled audibly, and then went on.
“All universities lose money. This one, large, urban, in some ways undistinguished, loses more than most. We have little alumni support, and that which we do have is often from the less affluent segments of our culture. We do not have one hundred thousand dollars.”
I looked at Tower. “Can the thing be fenced?”
“No, its value is historical and literary. The only market would be another university, and they would recognize it at once.”
“There is another problem, Mr. Spenser. The manuscript script must be kept in a controlled environment. Air-conditioned, proper humidity, that sort of thing. Should it be kept out of its case too long, it will fall apart. The loss to scholarship would be tragic.” Forbes’s voice sank at the last sentence. He examined a fleck of cigar ash on his lapel, then brought his eyes up level with mine and stared at me steadily.
“Can we count on you, Mr. Spenser? Can you get it back?”
“Win this one for the Gipper,” I said.
Behind me Tower gave a kind of snort, and Forbes looked as if he’d found half a worm in his apple.
“I beg your pardon?” he said.
“I’m thirty-seven years old and short on rah-rah, Dr. Forbes. If you’ll pay me, and do your Pat O’Brien impressions somewhere else, I’ll see if I can find the manuscript.”
“This gets us nowhere,” Tower said. “Let me take him down to my office, Dr. Forbes, and lay it all out for him. I know the situation and I’m used to dealing with people like him.”
Forbes nodded without speaking. As we left the office he was standing at his window, hands clasped behind his back, looking at the snow.
The administration building was cinder block, with vinyl tile, frosted glass partitions, two tones of green on the corridor walls. Tower’s office was six doors down from Forbes’s and not much bigger than Forbes’s desk. It was done in beige metal. Tower got seated behind his desk and tapped his teeth with a pencil.
“It’s really slick how you can charm a client, Spenser.”
I sat across from him in the other chair. I didn’t say anything.
“Sure,” he said, “the old man’s kind of a ham, but he’s a damn good administrator, and a damn fine person.”
“Okay,” I said, “he’s terrific. When I grow up I want to be just like him. What about the Godwulf Manuscript?”
“Right.” He took an eight-by-ten color print from his manila folder and handed it to me. It showed an elegantly handwritten book lying open on a table. The words were in Latin and around the margins in bright red and gold were drawn knights and ladies and lions on their hind legs, and vines and stags and a serpentine dragon being lanced by an armor-clad hero on a plump and feminine horse. The first letter at the top left on each page was elaborately drawn and incorporated into the design of the margins.
It was taken three nights ago from its case in the library’s rare book room. The watchman punched in there at two and again at four. At four he found the case open and the manuscript gone. He can’t say positively that it wasn’t there at two, but he assumes he would have noticed. It’s hard to prove you didn’t see something. You want to talk to him?”
“No,” I answered. “That’s routine stuff. You or the cops can do that as well as I could. Have you got a suspect?”
“Student Committee Against Capitalist Exploitation. Revolution at the far-left fringe of the spectrum. I don’t know it the way courts want it known; I know it the way you know things like that if you’re in my line of work.”
“Not really, though I’ve got some contacts. Mostly, though, it’s a gut guess. It’s the kind of thing they’d do. I’ve been here for five years. Before that I was with the Bureau for ten. I’ve spent a lot of time on radicals, and I’ve developed a feel for them.”
“Like the late director developed a feel for them?”
“Hoover? No, he’s one reason I quit the Bureau. He was a hell of a cop once, but his time came and went before he died. I got enough feel about the radical kids not to classify them. The worst of them have the same things wrong that zealots always have, but you can’t blame them for getting rigid about some of the things that go on. That ain’t Walt Disney World out there.” He nodded out his window at the blacktop quadrangle where the slush was beginning to collect in semi-fluid patterns as the kids sloshed through it. A thin and leafless sapling leaned against its support stake. It was a long way from home.
--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
From the Publisher
- ASIN : B00309SD02
- Publisher : Dell (September 30, 2009)
- Publication date : September 30, 2009
- Language : English
- File size : 2337 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 210 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #37,804 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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The protagonist Spenser is a more or less modern version of the classic hard bitten Noir type private detective. He is described as slightly over six feet tall and 195 pounds, able to bench press 250 pounds ten times. (That represents fairly serious lifting ability.). He has some experience boxing. At the same time he is seemingly fairly well read. He also feels free to make some fairly snotty comments whenever the mood strikes him. In many ways this is a good, if typical private detective novel.
Speaking for myself, what I found most interesting about this novel is how it compares and contrasts to another first private detective novel, "Indemnity Only" by Sara Paretsky. I just happened to read these two first novels, back to back. That was more or less a complete coincidence. When I say more or less a coincidence, I mean that I am surveying various authors' first novels, including first private detective novels. As Robert Parker's novel was published earlier than Sara Paretsky's, I read Mister Parker's first. Sara Paretsky's very enjoyable first novel was published in1982.
I intend to be vague, but I intend to touch upon these two stories and one may wish to read either or both of them without reading the following paragraph...
Both of these first novels are set in large cities, Boston and Chicago. Both protagonists are somewhat hard bitten private detectives, one male and one female. Both detectives tend to be smart alecs. Both stories involve universities. Both stories include incidents wherein the detectives discuss with others, including professors, the proper use of "who" versus "whom". Both stories involve the detectives driving out of their respective cities to nearby affluent suburbs and then meeting antagonistic wealthy people. Both stories include these detectives making illegal entries into apartments and discovering similar criminal activity that I will not further describe. Both of these illegal entries are seemingly excused by the police. As a retired 39 year police officer and 31 year police detective, all of that business about private detectives taking it upon themselves to illegally break and enter lies outside of my personal experience... That absolutely includes any legal immunity... From my personal experience, all of that falls under the realm of true and complete fiction.
As a student of literature, I am uncredentialed. I have never heard anyone discuss these above two first novels as they compare to each other. As Mister Parker's was published approximately nine years prior to Sara Paretsky's, it would seem unlikely that her storyline inspired Mister Parker. Needless to say these two very good novels may just have some interesting coincidences. As of yet, despite trying, I have yet to discover that Sara Paretsky was inspired by Robert Parker.
In summary, I enjoyed this novel and reading / study experience very much,. Should one be a fan of the modern Noir type private detective, one might enjoy reading first "The Godwulf Manuscript", followed by "Indemnity Only". I liked them both. Thank You...
Regardless of being brand new to Spenser or a returning veteran, all visits to the penultimate Boston gumshoe should begin with this novel. Meeting Spenser chronologically will serve to heighten enjoyment from not only the written series, but also provide deeper understanding of the incredible television series "Spenser, For Hire".
Before his passing, Robert B. Parker was a prolific writer, gracing us with 40 Spenser novels amongst his other works. Every few years, I love to revisit the series, and I always re-read all in order. Not many multi-book series inspire such dedication. Parker's Spenser is one such series that does.
Top reviews from other countries
Not sure how it's taken me this long to discover him, and I'm now hooked on his work.
This is a classic from way back in the late-70s/1980. Set before the days of the internet and cell phones, it's from a time when gathering information for a gumshoe like Spenser means a day at the library looking through piles of microfiche records rather than searching Google or online databases.
Parker's style is a combination of first-person-detective-novel-narrative (like Raymond Chandler) and well-written literary fiction... but without the pretensions. Spenser can slug it out with the best of them, be a wise guy to everyone in authority with his cynical humour, but then throw in an appropriate quote from Chaucer, Shakespeare or Keats so that people realise he's nobody's fool.
Parker's prose is tight, sparse and direct, yet he conveys mood brilliantly.
Among Spenser's talents are his keen eye for clothes and a special appreciation of good food and drink.
So he dresses for the occasion, he cooks well, he punches and shoots people like nobody else... and he's deeply in love with the woman of his dreams, Susan Silverman, a highly intelligent and beautiful psychotherapist. A one-woman man, despite the temptations and offers he seems to get!
I won't spoil the plot of this book, though, as it's less relevant than the quality of the writing.
(NB - I'm buying these old paperback editions secondhand as they're around half the price, delivered, of the electronic version and so I have something physical to keep and sell or pass on, as I choose.)
Spenser's background is not as defined as in the later books but obviously certain aspects and characteristics developed over time. However, he is still tough, belligerent, loyal, determined and as dedicated as you come to expect.
The book unfolds at a nice pace, has interesting characters and a good plot.
To be honest, if this had been the first one I had read, I most probably wouldn't have read any more. Luckily i discovered him quite by accident with one of the later novels.
This isn't one of Parker's best. I don't like this Spenser. His wisecracks are contrived and misplaced. Frankly, he deserves a slap. This Spenser will sleep with whoever offers herself. Parker introduces Susan Silverman in, I believe, the third novel, and Spenser starts to take shape, and the relationship moulds him. My advice to new readers would be to read the novels in order and have patience. They get so much better, and the dialogue between Spenser and his pal Hawk in the later novels is a joy.