Series Spenser
Publisher Delacorte Press
Publication date 1982
Media type hardcover
ISBN 0-440-01151-5
Preceded by A Savage Place
Followed by The Widening Gyre

Cover InformationEdit

"To Joan, for whom the sun
does in fact rise and set--
or would if she told it to"

Taken from the back cover of the paperback edition

"Pretty teenager April Kyle is in grown-up trouble, involved with people who'd beat her up for a dollar and kill her for five. Now she's disappeared, last seen in The Combat Zone, the side of Boston where nothing's proper, especially the sex for sale.

Spenser's out to make war, not love. Teamed with his sidekick, Hawk, he'll take on the whole X-rated industry. From a specialty whorehouse in Providence to stylish Back Bay bordellos, he'll pit muscle and wit against bullets and brawn until he finds out what he's looking for: April Kyle, little girl lost."

Recurring CharactersEdit

  • This is the first time we meet April Kyle, who is the focus of this story. She's run away from home, and is most likely turning tricks in the Combat Zone, and Spenser's been hired (for a dollar) to get her back. We'll see her again in Taming a Sea Horse.
  • Hawk puts in a fairly decent-sized appearance watching Spenser's back and keeping him and Susan alive when Tony Marcus tries to do them in.
  • Speaking of Tony Marcus, this is the first time we see him, too. Tony pretty much runs the Combat Zone, and is in charge of all things black and illegal. He pops up from time to time when sex and/or drugs are involved.
  • Susan is big in this one, as April's former guidance counselor (before April drops out of school, that is). She's in this one much more than the previous two outings, which is something of a relief. Unfortunately it won't last...
  • Henry Cimoli of the Harbor Health Club puts in a brief appearance. Seems the club is the base of Hawk's "operations."
  • Frank Belson and Martin Quirk show up briefly, and in a rare act of camaraderie, keep an eye out front while Hawk and Spenser rough up Tony Marcus at his bar. I'd say they're definitely friends by now...
  • The dark-haired art director puts in a brief appearance too. Still window-to-window communication; no actual contact yet...
  • Patricia Utley (cf. Mortal Stakes) has a quick conversation with Spenser by phone, before Spenser introduces her to April Kyle.

Unanswered QuestionsEdit

  • So what happens to Amy Gurwitz now that Poitras is in jail? Maybe he can pay the bills for the town house, but since most of that money has got to be illicit, it could technically be confiscated (I think). Sooner or later it has to run out, and then what? Another phone call to Patricia Utley?

Literary References, or "The Annotated Gumshoe"Edit

The significance of the title: "The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned" - William Butler Yeats, Michael Robartes and the Dancer [1921], The Second Coming, stanza 6. See Poetry.

I think this one is fairly straight-forward. The focus is on "ceremony of innocence," and by this I think RBP means that by becoming a prostitute, April's innocence is gone forever; drowned, as it were, in a blood-dimmed tide.
This excellent poem is also used in The Widening Gyre (as well as the series premiere of "Millenium" and an episode of "Babylon 5").

Chapter 2:

  • "The sparkle from your eyes is all I need." - I'm keeping this in the Unknown Quotes file for now, but Susan Rushton posted an interesting possibility:
"In the 1949 book Shane by Jack Schaefer, right before he goes out to meet the bad guys, Joe Starrett says 'No food, Marian, a cup of your coffee is all I need."
Spenser is talking about the beverage Susan serves with dinner, so the idea does have merit. Anyone else care to take a swing at it?

Chapter 3:

  • "High on life." - I had this on the unknown page, but perhaps I was looking so hard for something deeper that I missed the obvious. Susan Rushton writes: "...a phrase from the 60s, 70s, and 80s...don't do drugs, get high on life."

Chapter 4:

  • "There's no such thing as a bad boy." - See Oft Quoted

Chapter 6:

Chapter 10:

  • "I was beginning to feel like Winnie-the-Pooh. The more I looked for April Kyle, the more she wasn't there." - Iain Campbell found this one from the pen of A.A. Milne. See Oft Quoted

Chapter 12:

  • "What fools these mortals be" - William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream [1595-6], Act III, scene 2, line 115. Also spoken by Seneca: "Tanta stultitia mortalium est" in Epistles, 1, 3.
  • "I think we are in rats' alley, where the dead men lost their bones." - T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land [1922], II, A Game of Chess. Thanks go to Patrick Birch for finding this one (in fact it was in my Bartlett's, but I couldn't find it in the index. Once I knew the author and work, however, it was right there. Go figure). See Poetry

Chapter 13:

  • "...glowing like rotten wood. Someone had said that about the English court once. Raleigh?" - Indeed it was Sir Walter Raleigh, in his poem "The Lie." See Poetry

Chapter 14:

  • "to music that must have come from a different drummer" - Hisao Tomihari found this one. See Oft Quoted
  • "with wand'ring steps and slow" - John Milton, Paradise Lost [1667], Book XII, line 646: "They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow / Through Eden took their solitary way."

Chapter 16:

  • "Everybody's gotta have a dream." - I couldn't find it, but Iain Campbell sent me the following:
"Happy Happy Talkee, Happy Talk,
Talk about things you like to do
You gotta have a dream
If you don't have a dream
How you gonna make a dream come true
From South Pacific, Bloody Mary's song 'Happy happy talkee,' when her daughter and the young American officer are off 'spooning.'"

Chapter 17:

  • "Rolling Rock, a duck, and thou, under the timbered roof." - See the reference to "Ah, Wilderness" in Oft Quoted.
  • "We can remember April and be glad." - I wonder if RBP named the character with this quote in mind. It's a line from the song I'll Remember April, words by Don Raye and Patricia Johnson, music by Gene DePaul. It's one of those standards that by now has been recorded by everyone. See Lyrics

Chapter 19:

Chapter 20:

  • "an Abyssinian maiden with a dulcimer." - Straight out of Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1797. See Poetry
  • "Speak for yourself, John." - Hisao Tomihari wrote in to note: "It originated in the poem The Courtship of Miles Standish written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. 'Why don't you speak for yourself, John?' appears in Part III, The Lover's Errand. Priscilla Mullins Alden allegedly said this. She was one of the women who went over to America on the Mayflower. She got married to 'John' Alden, who had carried to her the marriage proposal of Captain Miles Standish of Plymouth." Quite correct. It's much too long for my poetry page but you can read the whole thing here. BTW: the esteemed contributor ended his letter by asking "Is this too obvious?" Well, yes and no. I overlooked it because every schoolchild in my day was quite familiar with the passage, and from the above it also seems to be well known in Japan. I should have remembered a second hand copy of the book in my collection where a previous owner had circled the name "John" in red, thinking that they'd tracked down Spenser's elusive first name.
  • "Say it ain't so Joe." - There's a long and interesting story about this on the Oft Quoted page.
  • "Sensual, but not too far from innocence." - Susan Rushton writes: "I gather you are not over 30. It's from a perfume ad in the 70s." As soon as I read that I said "Of course, that's it." Now the kicker: can anyone name the perfume? BTW, I'm in my early 50's, and I try as hard as I can to forget that entire decade. My disco boots and lime green leisure suit hit the landfill ages ago, and my Bee Gees collection stops in the late 60s. (I knew someone could do it: Thanks to Holleyanne McDaniel for coming through with the answer: "Just for the heck of it, I did a little googling, and found that the perfume in question is Jean Nate. Here's the reference I found: Cosmetics and More
  • "Pretty to think so."-See Oft Quoted.

Chapter 21:

  • "What big teeth you have, Granny" - Little Red Riding Hood (fairy tale).

Chapter 22:

  • "Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang" - See Oft Quoted and Poetry (Sonnet 73)
  • "If a tree falls in the forest with no one to hear it, does it make a sound?" - philosophical question. See Oft Quoted

Chapter 23:

  • "Is that G-O-O-N rhymes with noon...or G-U-N-E rhymes with prune?" - Goon come from the name of a thug in a comic strip created by E.C. Segar in the early 1900's. Gune (sometimes spelled gyne) is Greek for woman or wife. Sparring verbally with an educator takes certain skills. Esoteric, thy name is Spenser.

Chapter 24:

  • "Crime doesn't pay. Justice never sleeps." - Didn't Superman say that, or something similar? "Crime doesn't pay" is what a rather incompetent stagecoach robber known as Dick Fellows said to a sheriff after his arrest in 1882.
    Dennis Tallett writes: "The Shadow, on radio from 1930. Orson Welles from 1937. "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. The Shadow knows! (followed by screeching laughter as the crook is dragged away to the gas chamber). Who knows .....what the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! (followed by the organ rendition of Omphale's "Spinning Wheel."

Chapter 27:

  1. "Why doesn't the breeze excite me?" - Susan Rushton writes: " allusion to Spring is Here by Rodgers & Hart"
While I originally gave the date as 1929, David Freeman supplied the following clarification: "I believe you have run afoul of the fact that Rodgers and Hart wrote two songs entitled "Spring is Here" (full name "Spring is Here in Person"), one in 1929 for the show of the same name, and one, the famous one, in 1938 for "I Married an Angel." Naturally, the latter is the one referenced." See Lyrics
  • "She ain't heavy, she's my sister." - A play on "He ain't heavy, he's my brother." - See Oft Quoted.

Chapter 29:

  • "Only go this way, one time." - So you have to grab for all the gusto you can. The beer commercial is the best I could come up with.
  • "If it's to be done" - "'T'wer best done quickly." - See Oft Quoted.
  • "Thank God it's Friday" - Well, we all say it...
  • "T. J. Eckleberg, where are you now that I need you?" - Referring to The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A billboard featuring a giant pair of glasses has looked out with dispassion over a wasted countryside for many years, and Spenser thinks that the world-weary avatar of the optician is better suited to view the scene he is in the midst of.
Dennis Tallet notes "T.J Eckleberg appears in chapter 2 of The Great Gatsby. He has gigantic blue eyes, retinas a yard high and a pair of enormous yellow spectacles and Spenser would like his help."
  • "To seek, to strive, and not to yield." - Paraphrased from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Ulysses [1842], line 70: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

Chapter 31:

  • "Love is a many-splendoured thing." - A 1955 movie starring William Holden and Jennifer Jones, based on a novel by Suyin Han. The spelling varies through various sources, and Americans in makeup played the role of orientals. The theme was written by Paul Francis Webster and Sammy Fox, and it won an Oscar for Best Song. See Lyrics

Chapter 33:

  • "Her eyes were lovely, dark and deep." - Rtfbsfrff (also know as Barb) noticed this one. It's a reference to Stopping by woods on a snowy evening, one of Robert Frost's best know poems. See Oft Quoted and Poetry.
  • "If I knew that, I could throw the first stone." - A reference to John 8:7: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone"

Meanwhile, in the Spenser UniverseEdit

  • Spenser's "Broo List":
    • Chapter 2: Pilsner Urquell, at Susan's.
    • Chapter 6: Molson Golden Ale, served by Amy at Poitras's town house.
    • Chapter 17: Rolling Rock, at the Warren Tavern in Charlestown.
    • Chapter 31: Schlitz, in long-necked bottles, at Poitras's town house after the big knock-down drag out.
  • Susan has moved up from junior high guidance to the high school since last we saw her. She's also been taking courses at Harvard for the last several years, so she might be on her way out pretty soon.
  • Believe it or not, there was actually an open parking spot on Marlboro Street! (I know! Isn't that RARE? Never happened in my lifetime).
  • Spenser is reading Sartoris by William Faulkner. When it wasn't at hand he read a John LeClair novel.
  • The first mention that he is a size 48. Susan also comments on his size 17 neck.

Favorite LinesEdit

Chapter 2: Spenser's cooking tips don't always go over too well

"'You shouldn't add the scallions at the same time you do the potatoes. By the time the potatoes are done the scallions will be burned.'
Susan smiled at me. 'Why don't you take a flying fuck at a rolling donut,' she said.'"

Chapter 2: Darn, I never get to have any fun

"'He is a terrible turkey, isn't he?' Susan said.:
'After we find the girl, can I beat him up?"
Susan shook her head.
'Slash his tires?' I said.
'Soap his windows?'

Chapter 2: Eloquence can be a terrible thing...

"'I assume you can find April,' Susan said.
'Does a cat have an ass?' I said.
'Ah, the poetry of it,' Susan said, 'the pure pleasure of your discourse.'"

Chapter 4: Is that really Sam's signature or is it just a marketing ploy?

"One of the other boys said, 'Hey, you carry a gun?'
'Knowing I was going to talk with you toughies, I thought I'd better.'
'What kind you got?'
'Smith and Wesson,' I said. 'Detective special.' I'd found a subject that interested them. 'Thirty-eight caliber. Sam Spade autograph model.'"

Chapter 4: You mean pushing around a kid isn't enough job satisfaction?

"There was nothing else to say. I walked away, back toward the center of town, where I'd left my car. On the way I looked for a puppy to kick."

Chapter 5: Every woman has a fantasy

"'Before I hang up,' I said, 'tell me something.'
'Do you spend much time at work fantasizing about my nude body?'
'Let me rephrase the question,' I said.
'Just see if you can find out the address for the phone number,' Susan said, and hung up. She was probably embarrassed that I'd discovered her secret."

Chapter 8: Yeah, his old hobby of watching paint dry was too exciting

"I looked at Amy's town house again. No clue appeared. There'd be other slow days. It could become my hobby. Like collecting baseball cards or campaign buttons. In my spare time I'd come over and stare at Amy Gurwitz's doorway. It's good to keep busy."

Chapter 9: What's harder than getting a pregnant woman into a Volkswagen?...

I pulled the MG in beside him at the curb and he got in.
'This thing ain't big enough for either one of us,' he said. 'When you getting something that fits?'
'It goes with my preppy look,' I said. 'You get one of these, they let you drive around the north shore, watch polo, anything you want.'
I let the clutch in and turned right on Dartmouth.
'How you get laid in one of these?' Hawk said.
'You just don't understand preppy,' I said. 'I know it's not your fault. You're only a couple of generations out of the jungle. I realize that. But if you're a preppy you don't get laid in a car.'
'Where you get laid if you preppy?'
I sniffed. 'One doesn't,' I said.
'Preppies gonna be outnumbered in a while,' Hawk said."

Chapter 12: Keeping Spenser modest

"Susan put on butter and homemade maple syrup and took a bite. 'Yum,' she said.
'Only one yum?'
'I don't want you to get arrogant.'"

Chapter 18: 1001 uses for Turtle Wax, use #586:

"His head gleamed in the bar's soft light as if he'd oiled it. I'd felt pretty good about my leather trench coat until I saw him.
'You stop somewhere and get your head buffed?' I said.
He made room for me at the bar. 'That's a halo,' he said."

Chapter 20: We all celebrate the holidays in our own special way

"'What does Hawk do on Thanksgiving?' Susan said.
'I have no idea,' I said. 'Probably has honey-roasted pheasant served to him by an Abyssinian maiden with a dulcimer.'"

Chapter 20: Yes, it must be difficult to choke down food with the specter of Death (or Hawk) looming over you...

"'You know how in medieval landscape painting the artists would often include an allegorical representation of death to remind us that it's always present and imminent?'
She nodded.
'That's like inviting Hawk to Thanksgiving dinner. He'd be the figure in the landscape, and that would compromise him. Hawk would not want you to invite him.'"

Chapter 22: Studies show that jargon causes cancer in rats...

"'Either he met with students during crisis intervention sessions,' Susan said to me on the telephone, 'or at coordinative evaluation conferences or he's been a resource person during attempts at therapeutic redirection.'
'You are, I hope, quoting,' I said.
'You mean the jargon? You hear it so much you get used to it.'
'Talking like that will rot your teeth,' I said."

Chapter 24: I won't grow up, I won't grow up...

"'Has a European feel,' Susan said.
'That sounds terrific,' I said. 'Can I have one?'
Susan grinned at me. 'How did you ever get to be so big without growing up?' she said.
'Iron self-control,' I said."

Chapter 27: Is that what it is? I thought it was maybe a full moon or something...

'Must be a slow month on the kickbacks,' Belson said. 'Vice guys are all grouchy.'


  • Chapter 2: Susan makes a potato and scallion omelet, served with biscuits from a mix and boysenberry jam at her place.
  • Chapter 7: Cheeseburger at the Cafe Vendome.
  • Chapter 8: Dunkin' Donuts corn muffins and coffee.
  • Chapter 11: A meatloaf sandwich on wheat bread from Rebecca's at home.
  • Chapter 12: Spenser makes corn cakes at Susan's. Served with butter and homemade maple syrup.
  • Chapter 17: Duck with pecan stuffing at the Warren Tavern. Indian pudding with vanilla iced cream for desert..
  • Chapter 18:
    • A baked bean sandwich on whole wheat with mayo and lettuce at home.
    • While on the stakeout, caponata from Rebecca's, feta cheese, black olives, syrian bread.
  • Chapter 20: Thanksgiving at Susan's
    • Breakfast
      • Fresh squeezed orange juice
      • Johnny cakes with butter and maple syrup.
    • Dinner
      • Hot pumpkin soup.
      • Cold asparagus with green herb mayonnaise on a bed of red lettuce.
      • Pheasant with raspberry vinegar sauce.
      • Saffron pilaf (white and wild rice and pignolia nuts.)
      • Sour cherry cobbler with Vermont Cheddar cheese.
  • Chapter 21: Leftover cherry cobbler for breakfast.
  • Chapter 24: Tongue sandwich on rye, followed by a Linzer torte which he split with Susan at the Bookstore Cafe.
  • Chapter 26: Oatmeal cookies and coffee at Susan's.
  • Chapter 28: Feta cheese, fresh Syrian bread, Kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, green pepper rings, and smoked kielbasa at his apartment.
  • Chapter 32: Country pate (Spenser made it with lamb, duck, pistachio nuts, and anchovy) sandwiches on whole wheat bread, served with bread and butter pickles he and Susan made and some peach chutney.


  • Chapter 2: Pilsner Urquell at Susan's. Great Western champagne with the meal.
  • Chapter 6: Molson Golden presented oh-so-elegantly at Amy's.
  • Chapter 7: Three beers with his cheeseburger at Cafe Vendome.
  • Chapter 11: Three bottles of Rolling Rock extra pale at home.
  • Chapter 13: Beer at J.J. Donovan's. Some more Rolling Rock's at home.
  • Chapter 17: Rolling Rock at the Warren Tavern.
  • Chapter 18: Beer at the bar in Gallagher's.
  • Chapter 20: Dom Perignon 1971 with dinner. Coffee and Grand Marnier after.
  • Chapter 24: A bottle of Norman cider at the Bookstore Cafe.
  • Chapter 28: A bottle of new Beaujolais with the meal at his apartment.
  • Chapter 29: Beer at the top of the Hyatt Regency.
  • Chapter 31: Schlitz long necks in the ruins after the fight.
  • Chapter 32: Beer back at his apartment.


  • You did what? In Chapter 12 Spenser asks Susan: "We got any of that maple syrup we made last spring?" A tap on one tree might yield 10 gallons of sap over a four week period. The boiling process reduces it by 30 or 40 to one. I was ready to discount this until I read in Three Weeks in Spring that the Parkers have been known to make their own. I share their distaste for the sugar-syrup with1% maple flavor junk the supermarkets sell, but even in 1982 the pure product was not all that hard to find here in Massachusetts.
  • Those golden days of yore: A custom tailored suit must have cost Poitras at least $750.
  • Pleased to meet you, won't you guess my name: Starting in the very first book Vince Haller has been Spenser's attorney. Jeff Chunko wrote in to note the following in ch. 30:
"Vince, Hal's slugger, came charging down the stairs with Hal behind him."
Coincidence or Easter Egg? I can't prove it either way. Good eye, Jeff.
  • Show me the money: One dollar as a retainer. His classy wardrobe for infiltrating Providence cost him $100 at Zayre's (a late, unlamented discount department store) so his fee is seriously behind the profit curve. I find it personally amusing that the local store was taken over by a retail chain named Ames; since they never cut me in on the profits it's okay with me that they also went under. A legal change of name to Bob Walmart or Bob Target may be in order.

Previous book: A Savage Place • Next book: The Widening Gyre