Cold Service  
Series Spenser
Publisher G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date 2005
Media type hardcover
ISBN 0-399-15240-7
Preceded by Bad Business
Followed by School Days

Cover InformationEdit

"For Joan: far together"

From the dust jacket of the hard cover edition:

When Spenser's closest ally, Hawk, is brutally injured and left for dead while protecting bookie Luther Gillespie, Spenser embarks on an epic journey to rehabilitate his friend in body and soul. Hawk, always proud, has never been dependent on anyone. Now he is forced to make connections: to the medical technology that will ensure his physical recovery, and to reinforce the tenuous emotional ties he has to those around him. Spenser quickly learns that the Ukrainian mob is responsible for the hit, but finding a way into their tightly knit circle is not nearly so simple. Their total control of the town of Marshport, from the bodegas to the police force to the mayor's office, isn't just a sign of rampant corruption--it's a form of arrogance that only serves to ignite Hawk's desire to get even. As the body count rises, Spenser is forced to employ some questionable techniques and even more questionable hired guns while redefining his friendship with Hawk in the name of vengeance.

Recurring CharactersEdit

  • Hawk, looking atypically mortal.
  • Cecile, who isn't happy with either ill Hawk or healthy Hawk.
  • Susan, being helpful in many ways.
  • Tony Marcus plays a bigger role than expected.
  • His bodyguards Junior and Ty-Bop are of course nearby.
  • Captain Quirk actually lends Hawk some unofficial assistance.
  • So does Sergeant Frank Belson.
  • Vinnie Morris gets to hang around not shooting people.
  • Chollo makes an appearance as well.
  • Pearl, the Canine-American Princess.
  • Henry Cimoli, watching over rehab in the gym.
  • Captain Healy gets involved, as things go beyond Boston.
  • Ives even gets involved, directing Hawk and Spenser to...
  • Rugar, The Gray Man, who proves a dangerous ally.
  • Rita Fiore is happy to continue flirting with Spenser.
  • Nathan Epstein doesn't flirt.

Literary References, or "The Annotated Gumshoe"Edit

Significance of the title: "Revenge is a dish best served cold." - From Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782) by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (" La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid"). While I have found it referenced in many languages and cultures, the one I remember is from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (and thanks to Gerald So for providing the exact quote)

"Ah Kirk, my old friend. Do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? It is very cold in space."

Significance of the Dedication: "For Jean: far together" - No hits so far.

Chapter 1:

  • "They came here yearning to breathe free." - From the inscription on the plaque held by the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island in New York harbor, written by Emma Lazarus: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! ...see Pale Kings and Princes ch. 6

Chapter 2:

  • "Al Sharpton." - Civil rights activist known for his ardent defense of the black community. Hawk seems skeptical of Tony's desire to "defend his people" as Tony is normally motivated by self-interest rather than a concern for racial pride. (As we see later in the book, Hawk's skepticism is well-founded.)

Chapter 4:

  • "Maybe an infinite number of angels can balance on the point of a needle." - A philosophical question often (not quite correctly) attributed to medieval scholars. It's a metaphor for wasting time debating a topic of no practical value. Spenser is saying to Cecile that discussing the differences between his own emotional needs and those of Hawk is not going to be a productive discussion.

Chapter 6:

  • "Pallid winter sun." - A fairly common poetic description of the pale winter sun in the late 19th/early 20th century, but I can't find a specific source RBP is likely to have used. May simply be Spenser waxing slightly poetic on his own.

Chapter 8:

  • "Well, we got a list...And we'll be checking it twice." Hawk and Spenser, like jolly old Saint Nick, will be making darn sure who's naughty or nice. Of course since the list in question is entirely made up of Ukranian mobsters, not many are likely to make the "nice" list.
  • "The keepers are as corruptible as the kept." Perhaps a circuitous way of saying, who watches the watchers? This sentiment about trust and corruptibility expressed by the Roman poet Juvenal in the 1st century has proven durably accurate in the centuries since.

Chapter 9:

  • "Fish on a bicycle." Classic feminist line employed in an entirely non-feminist context. See Oft Quoted.

Chapter 11:

  • "Ebony & Ivory" - The new name for the restaurant which serves as Tony Marcus' headquarters is a classic call for racial harmony hearkening back to the 1982 hit by Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. Since, as Hawk points out, Spenser is virtually the only 'ivory' ever to visit the restaurant, we can presume that Tony has a sense of humor.
  • Especially since just a page later Tony notes that Spenser still has "that unhealthy pallor."

Chapter 13:

  • "Scrapple." This sort of corn-meal meatloaf is more traditionally known as a food from the Mid-Atlantic states (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia.) Not sure why Spenser decided to add this regional dish to his repertoire.

Chapter 19:

  • "Twould be a darlin' thing if the rat bastard were dead." Healy's being cute with the Irish accent, perhaps as a way to offset the fact that a homicide commander shouldn't really advocate the execution of an alleged criminal.
  • The origin of "rat bastard" is, however, quite American. It dates to at least the 1950s. One of the earliest appearances in pop culture is in the name of the "Rat Bastard Protective Association," a countercultural society of painters founded by artist Bruce Conner in San Francisco in 1957. Conner apparently got the phrase from "a slur picked up at the gym." It's distinctly uncomplimentary.

Chapter 20:

  • "Implacable quiet snowfall." Stating the obvious; New England is no stranger to uncaring winter storms. There's science behind the "quiet" part though: snow is a porous material and absorbs sound well. As the good people at [1] have explained, "sound absorption is measured on a scale from 0 to 1. Based on previous measurements, sound absorption for snow is in between 0.5 to 0.9." This applies mostly to new-fallen, fluffy snow: once it partially melts and refreezes, it becomes more reflective.

Chapter 23:

  • "Young Lochinvar." See Oft Quoted. Ives calls Spenser this mostly to annoy him at this point. Given that Spenser is usually the one to irritate others, it's refreshing to see someone throw some shade back in his direction now and then.

Chapter 28:

  • "I don't think Clausewiz was in favor of fighting a two-front war." It's never a good idea. See Oft Quoted
  • "Genderless in the dark weather." Night is the great equalizer. Also, Spenser might need glasses. (Not that he'd ever admit it.)

Chapter 29:

  • "Easier for a camel..." See Oft Quoted. Perhaps Spenser's repeated disdain for the wealthy explains his own propensity for doing cases for free, although it makes you wonder exactly how he keeps the lights on.
  • "Walking onto a yacht." - Few things are more emblematic of privilege and power than a yacht. Hawk walks into this place like he owns it.
  • "Change places and handy dandy." See Oft Quoted. Hawk, of course, knows the following lines, since he apparently reads Shakespeare between contract killings.

Chapter 31:

  • "Mortality rested very lightly on him." - It's a poetic turn of phrase, but I think RBP may have coined this elegant way to say describe how little Hawk seems inconvenienced by the realities of human limitations. Which, of course, makes Hawk's gunshot wound and recovery earlier in the book all the more shocking.
  • "Thinking long thoughts about shooting somebody." Ty-Bop is a jittery cokehead, but his one area of interest is deep indeed.

Chapter 37:

  • "Stagger Lee." - A popular American folk song about the murder of Billy Lyons by "Stag" Lee Shelton in St. Louis, Missouri at Christmas, 1895. First published in 1911, it's been covered by many artists, including Pat Boone, Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, The Grateful Dead, and more. Which version was Parker thinking of? My money is the version by Lloyd Price in 1958, which rose to the top of the charts in 1959. That seems to be more or less where Spenser's musical sensibilities are moored.

Chapter 38:

  • "Visions of sugarplums." Rather a quirky, if refined, way for Ives to objectify the "young housewives with their personal trainers." This being the second Christmas reference in the book, perhaps RBP has the holidays on his mind.
  • "Kodi McKean, The Kodiak Kid." The Kodiak Islands, and more particularly the eponymous bears of the region, loom large in American pop culture as an image of untamed Alaska and hence the last remaining American frontier. (The name is from the local Alutiiq language for "island".) Rugar, in coining a name for himself, has come up with a stage name that is as quintessentially American as it is theatrically false.

Chapter 39:

  • "Strangers in a strange land." - Likely echoing the title of the famous 1961 novel by Robert Heinlein about Martian expatriate Michael Smith. It speaks to the isolation of the Ukranians. To be fair, they aren't doing a lot to endear themselves to their new homeland.
  • "My country right or wrong but still my country." This famous quote is popularly attributed to Senator Carl Schurz, circa 1872. However Spenser's using it out of context. He seems to be implying that, although it's distasteful to be working with the feds, better them than the opposition. The original put more emphasis on the need to keep your country honest:
"My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right."
Spenser's use is closer to the original (but lesser-known) quote by Stephen Decatur (circa 1816-1820), which is uncritically patriotic.
  • "Let us be true to one another dear." Likely from Dover Beach, a poem by English poet Matthew Arnold, 1867. The original verse omits the 'dear' however, so it's possible that Hawk is actually correcting Spenser's slight misquote.

Chapter 42:

  • "Sometimes illusion is all we have." This pithy existential sentiment has been expressed many times by philosophers both ancient and modern, Eastern and Western. One of the more famous examples is Plato's allegory of the cave, which posits that humans never see the reality outside the cave, only flickering shadows on the rear wall of the cave.
  • "A fine mess you've gotten us into this time, Ollie." Susan's using a variant of the famous catchphrase of Laurel and Hardy, comic duo extraordinaire. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appeared in 107 films together between 1926-1950.

Chapter 47:

"A fine mess I've gotten us into, Ollie." The quote revisited, this time by Hawk, but with the added flair of Hawk's uncanny imitation of Stan Laurel.
  • "A cockeyed optimist." Title of a number from the musical South Pacific (1958). One presumes Spenser's being both self-deprecating and ironic.

Chapter 48:

  • "Music only he could hear." - Well, sure. Vinnie's rarely to be found without his iPod or equivalent device. "Probably emblematic of us all," Spenser thinks to himself with a great deal of satisfaction. Modesty, thy name is not Spenser.

Chapter 49:

  • "If he had a choice between betraying his country and betraying his friend, he hoped he's have the courage to betray his country." - The English novelist E.M. Forster, best known for writing A Passage to India (1924). He notes that such a sentiment is hardly very modern:
"Such a choice may scandalize the modern reader, and he may stretch out his patriotic hand to the telephone at once and ring up the police. It would not have shocked Dante, though. Dante places Brutus and Cassius in the lowest circle of Hell because they had chosen to betray their friend Julius Caesar rather than their country Rome."
  • "The truth will set you free." - John 8:32. See Oft Quoted.

Chapter 54:

  • "All the son-in-laws in all the world." RBP returns to his old standby Casablanca for yet another misquote. See Oft Quoted

Chapter 56:

  • "He ain't heavy." - The popular ballad written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell and popularized by both The Hollies and Neil Diamond is also a go-to quote for RBP. See Lyrics.

Chapter 57:

  • "I could not love you half as much, loved I not honor more." - In an unusual twist, the author of the poem is explicitly stated, as Hawk asks Spenser for help in remembering the line. Despite the scholarly camaraderie demonstrated by Hawk and Spenser, Cecile is unimpressed by either the quote or the sentiment.

Chapter 58:

  • "All for one." And one for all. Alexandre Dumas, 1844, the Three Musketeers.

Chapter 59:

  • "Readiness is all." - See Oft Quoted. If I had a nickel for every time Spenser either says or paraphrases this sentiment...

Chapter 60:

  • 220px-Tex Ritter 1966

    Tex Ritter

    "I felt as if Tex Ritter should be singing on a sound track somewhere." - Tex Ritter was a country music singer and actor active from the 1930s to the 1960s. The abandoned Marshport Mall seems a poor analogue to the western backdrops of Tex's films.

Meanwhile, in the Spenser UniverseEdit

  • Spenser's reading material: "Longitudes and Attitudes" by Thomas L. Friedman. Dewey decimal system 973.931.
  • Henry Cimoli has added a Pilates area to the Harbor Health Club.

Favorite LinesEdit

Chapter 2: Have your secretary call mine, we'll do lunch. Or turn over a table and shoot up the restaurant; you never know how these business meetings will go.

'Well,' Tony Marcus said, 'I got a vast criminal enterprise to oversee. I'll be off. You need something Hawk, you give me a shout.'"

Chapter 2: "Smack him smartly on the snout when he misbehaves" was unlikely to have been part of this dawg's training program.

'Say so long to Ty-Bop for me,' I said.
'He try to bite you when you came in?' Tony said.
'See that,' Tony said. 'He like you.'"

Chapter 5: For career counseling day we've brought in an expert to advise you.

"'And what is your role in all this?' she said.
'Comic relief.'"

Chapter 6: Respect where it's due, please

'Enjoy it while you can, honkie.'
'Hey,' Quirk said. 'I'm a police captain.'
'That's right, you is," Hawk said. 'Enjoy it while you can, Captain Honkie.'

Chapter 10: Don't start what you can't finish

'I could probably kick his ass now,' Henry said. 'Be my chance.'
I nodded.
'Be wise to kill him if you do,' I said.
'I know,' Henry said. 'Eventually he'll get better.'

Chapter 33: Yep, and it's worked like a charm for more books than Hammet and Chandler wrote combined.

“'It’s known in some forensic circles as the Spenser Method.' I said
'Also known as I don’t have any idea what the fuck I’m doing.' Hawk said."

Chapter 34: Although he is desperately in need of a choke chain, he will never put one on his friends.

“'But he won’t impose. You know him nearly as well as I do. He will stay with you, let you run it, go where you want to go,' Susan said
Hawk nodded.
'He do that,' he said.
'He do that with me too,' Susan said. 'It drives me fucking crazy.'”


  • Chapter 3: Oatmeal-maple scones courtesy of Captain Quirk at the office.
  • Chapter 9: Turkey and stuffing. Whole wheat buttermilk biscuits.
  • Chapter 12: Apple pie with cheese at the Town Diner in Watertown.
  • Chapter 13: Scrapple with fried eggs at Susan's.
  • Chapter 32: Shrimp Wiggle.
  • Chapter 36: Lobster Stew at Loch Obers. Also Indian Pudding.
  • Chapter 42: Fritters, choice of apple or banana, at Susan's.


  • Chapter 4: Johnny Walker Blue and soda in the bar at the Four Seasons.
  • Chapter 7: Scotch and soda at home. Implied Riesling with the meal.
  • Chapter 20: Black Bush with their coffee at the office.
  • Chapter 28: Irish whiskey at the office.
  • Chapter 30: Beers at the office.
  • Chapter 32: Bloody Mary's at Cecile's condo. White wine with brunch, a mediocre Chardonnay.
  • Chapter 34: Blue label and soda at Upstairs on the Square.
  • Chapter 40: Beers at the Boston Harbor Hotel.
  • Chapter 49: Beer at the bar in the Ritz.


  • Winner of "the most people killed in one novel" award, there are at least 22 homicides in this book. Five by Hawk, seven by the Ukrainian mob, and "at least ten" killed in City Hall. See The Homicides of Spenser for a complete list of who has died when and how.
  • On two occasions (ch. 4 and ch. 34) Spenser orders his usual scotch and soda in a tall glass with plenty of ice, and specifies Johnny Walker Blue. Considered by many to be the best blended (as opposed to single malt) whiskey in the world it is available in very limited quantities and a .75 liter bottle (with its own serial number) goes for about $200. It should be slowly inhaled, not swallowed, and even serving it over ice is a crime. He may as well buy the house brand at Vinny's Superette if he wants it mixed that way. When he so often visits the most expensive restaurants in Boston does he demand a bottle of ketchup to douse his sushi or pour A1 sauce all over his medium rare Kobe Beef fillet? Too much money, too little class. Thanks to Iain Campbell for pointing out this one.
  • Also thanks to Iain Campbell for pointing out that Hawk ordered a Champagne cocktail. This is a man who swigs down only the finest top end vintages like they are soda pop, and imagining him having one mixed with a sugar cube and Angostura bitters is as terrible as what Spenser does above. Get a bottle of fortified wine and drink it the alley, guys.
  • Enough with leaving a message for Hawk with Henry at the Harbor Health Club (Ch. 11). Either close the door of a phone booth and drop a nickel in the slot before turning the rotary dial or have Spenser pull out his cell phone and push speed dial. We've seen in past books that Hawk has gone cellular, and this mid-twentieth century plot device has worn very thin by now.
  • I smell a catch phrase: Quirk leaves behind a folder of confidential police information in chapter 6 after warning Spenser not to read it. This plot device is in almost every novel by now. See Police Business

Previous book: Bad Business • Next book: School Days