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Truly a bittersweet read: Robert B. Parker's final Spenser novel. I've been a fan for about 35 years, since I picked up Mortal Stakes one fateful evening at the Bethesda branch of the Montgomery County (MD) Public Library System.

In this one, Spenser's old cop friend, Quirk, prevails upon Spenser to investigate the mysterious death of a young lady while she was in the company of movie star Jumbo Nelson. Jumbo is a pig, even compared to his peers, a glutton for food, drink, illicit substances, and kinky sex, not necessarily in that order. But is he guilty of murder?

Spenser (being a mensch) and Jumbo (being a slimeball) inevitably clash, and that brings Jumbo's bodyguard, Zebulon Sixkill, into the picture. He's no match for Spenser in fisticuffs, and his failure gets him an immediate insulting pink slip from Jumbo.

Sixkill's life (it turns out) has been on a downward spiral ever since his days as a football star in college; getting fired and verbally abused by Jumbo is pretty much the definition of hitting bottom. Sixkill forms an unlikely relationship with Spenser, probably surprising them both. Working together, they team up to get to the truth and put themselves in peril from those who'd prefer they didn't.

No spoilers, but there's nothing here that shouts "final book". In a nice touch, Henry Cimoli, owner of the gym where Spenser works out, gets a bigger role than usual. Hawk is absent. Susan is… well, she's Susan; I used to find her annoying, but I gave that up a few years back. She is what she is, and provides our gumshoe with some solid assistance here.

Parker's publisher and his family announced that the Spenser series will continue, written by a guy named Ace Atkins. He's got big shoes to fill. And he may be good, but he won't be the same.

Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:11 AM EDT


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The Pun Salad Manor Animation Fest continued with Tangled, which Disney claims as its 50th animated feature.

It's loosely based on the Grimm tale of Rapunzel. She's a princess with Magic Hair; due to some legerdemain with a glowing superflower when she was still in the womb, her uncut follicles have healing and rejuvenating powers. All she has to do is sing a little song. Unfortunately, Rapunzel was kidnapped as an infant by the evil Mother Gothel, and squirreled away in a tall tower. As she nears adulthood, however, she feels the ever-increasing pull of the outside world. And the situation is transformed when one Flynn Rider, a petty thief, stumbles upon the tower and lets himself in.

Tangled is solidly in the Disney formula, and I mean that in a 98% good way. Everything is gorgeous. The script is clever and funny. The heroine is spunky and resourceful. The protagonists speak in Southern California accents and slang. ("Don't freak out," Rapunzel counsels Flynn, as she reveals her hairy powers.) Songs by Alan Menken. Two colorful and amusing animal sidekicks, a chameleon and a horse. The good guys win, after enduring multiple perils, and evil is defeated.

It's not The Lion King, but nothing is. Just a lot of fun to watch.

Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:06 AM EDT