Family Honor  
Series Sunny Randall
Publisher G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date 1999
Media type hardcover
ISBN 0-399-14668-7
Preceded by none
Followed by Perish Twice

Cover InformationEdit

"For Joan: I concentrate on you." (see significance of the dedication below)

From the dust jacket of the hard cover edition:

A blazingly original novel from the undisputed dean of American crime fiction, featuring a sharp, tough, sexy new P.I., Sunny Randall.

"Robert B. Parker has always been a master of razor-sharp and witty dialogue, hard-driving suspense, and memorable characterization," says the Houston Chronicle. With both the classic Spenser series and the more recent Jesse Stone novels, Parker's spare prose and tight storytelling have earned him critical praise and popular success in equal measure. In Family Honor, he creates a new protagonist - young, smart, and for the first time, female.

Sunny Randall is a Boston P.I. and former cop, a college graduate, an aspiring painter, a divorcee, and the owner of a miniature bull terrier named Rosie. Hired by a wealthy family to locate their teenage daughter, Sunny is tested by the parents' preconceived notion of what a detective should be. With the help of underworld contacts she tracks down the runaway Millicent, who has turned to prostitution, rescues her from a vicious pimp, and finds herself, at thirty-four, the unlikely custodian of a difficult teenager when the girl refuses to return to her family.

But Millicent's problems are rooted in much larger crimes than running away, and Sunny, now playing the role of bodyguard, is caught in a shooting war with some very serious mobsters. She turns for help to her ex-husband, Richie, himself the son of a mob family, and to her dearest friend, Spike, a flamboyant and dangerous gay man. Heading this unlikely alliance, Sunny must solve at least one murder, resolve a criminal conspiracy that reaches to the top of state government, and bring Millicent back into functional young-womanhood.

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's DayEdit

Or to a Spenser novel.

  • A Boston P.I. who used to be with the police but quit because of the hierarchy.
  • A large friend who can intimidate people or kick butt as needed.
  • A love interest who she couldn't imagine not being a part of her life.
  • A teenager who knows nothing about how to experience life, who Sunny refuses to return to her parents, and instead tries to teach. It's a distaff version of Early Autumn.
  • Other plot points as listed in the annotations.

Round Up the Usual SuspectsEdit

  • Tony Marcus - Crime lord of the black community. If you're a whore in Boston, you belong to him.
  • Ty-Bop - Tony's shooter. He boogies to the beat of his own drummer.
  • Junior - Tony's bodyguard. He might not be as big as Delaware, but he's certainly bigger than Rhode Island.
  • Fast Eddie (Lee) is mentioned in the meeting with the Antonionis as one of the "lone cowhands in Boston since Gerry (Broz) went down." (Thanks to Iain Campbell for noticing.)

Literary References, or "The Annotated Sleuthette"Edit

Note: Simone Hochreiter sent me her annotations before I started mine, so some of the information here is based on her notes or my follow-up research into them, whether I point it out in the individual entries or not. Thanks, Simone.

Significance of the Dedication: I Concentrate on You is the title of a song by Cole Porter, written for the film Broadway Melody of 1940. See Lyrics


  • "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." - Often attributed to Gloria Steinhem, the phrase actually came from an Australian feminist named Irina Dunn. See Oft Quoted
  • "Two drifters, off to see the world/There's such a lot of world to see." - From the song Moon River written by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini for the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany's, based on the novel by Truman Capote. See Lyrics
  • "You and me against the world." - Title of a song written by Paul Williams and Ken Ascher. See Lyrics. The author intended it as a song about a man and woman depending upon each other. Helen Reddy omitted the second verse and transformed it into a bond between a mother and her child, ending with a small voice saying "I love you, mommy." It's the one I am most familiar with and as Sunny collapses into herself and hugs Rosie I hear that version in my mind.

Chapter 1:

  • "The whole landscape, refracted slightly by the rain, made me think of Monet." - Almost identical to chapter 29 of Double Deuce. At the time I included a few impressionist scenes from the garden of Giverney (below).
  • Water Lilies - Claude Monet
  • Garden at Giverny
  • A photo of the garden today

Chapter 3:

  • Ichabod1
    "an elongated Ichabod Crane shadow." - Ichabod Crane was the main character in Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Described as tall and lanky, here is an illustration from one of the earliest printings.
  • "Day at a time." - Alcoholics Anonymous stresses that sobriety is best taken one day at a time, and this phrase can be a source of strength. Sunny is implying that her life is an ongoing struggle as is her pursuit of an MFA ("night at a time").

Chapter 5:

  • "St. Francis of Assisi." - Founder of the Franciscan Order he is, among other distinctions, the patron saint of animals.
  • George scott patton willie

    General Patton and Willie.

    "Like General Patton's dog?" - A face only an owner could love :) Here's a portrait of "Willie" (short for William the Conqueror) and the General.

Chapter 7:

  • "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." - So said Ralph Waldo Emerson in Self Reliance.

Chapter 8:

  • "Cone Oakes and Belding." - Don Bradley, the date from Hell, works for this law firm. See the Oops in the Notes below.

Chapter 9:

  • GigYoung

    Gig Young

    "Gig Young." - An American actor (1913-78). He won the "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar in 1969 for his part in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Chapter 10:

  • "the sort of Kenneth Clark stuff about how art forms both shapes and records the culture if comes from." - Clark, Kenneth Mackenzie, Baron (1903-1983). British art historian and critic. Wrote several books on art including Leonardo da Vinci(1939), Landscape into Art (1949), Piero della Francesca(1951), The Nude (1956) and Rembrandt and the Italian Renaissance(1966). His television series and subsequent book Civilization (1969) were extremely popular.

Chapter 11:

  • "listening to music that no one else could here." - Seems quite similar to the following.
  • "Ty-Bop boogied to the beat of his own drummer." - See Oft Quoted
  • "You go, girl." - A very modern expression, it combines "go for it" and "congratulations." Hooray for Grrrl Power.

Chapter 14:

  • "The unleaving trees." - A word you don't come across too often. I think of Gerald Manley Hopkins, Poems [1918], No. 55, Spring and Fall: To a Young Child, line 1. See Poetry.
  • "flowing east darkly and without surcease." - Sounds poetic but the waters are too muddied to trace it back. The best I can do is inject a little humor here with a weather report written by David Chuter, a winner of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest: "Rain -- violent torrents of it, rain like fetid water from a God-sized pot of pasta strained through a sky-wide colander, rain as Noah knew it, flaying the shuddering trees, whipping the whitecapped waters, violating the sodden firmament, purging purity and filth alike from the land, rain without mercy, without surcease, incontinent rain, turning to intermittent showers overnight with partial clearing Tuesday".

Chapter 16:

Chapter 17:

  • "my mother says a woman alone's got no chance." - There is a lengthy explanation of this in Pale Kings and Princes. I bookmarked the relevant passage here
  • "No more than a fish does without a bicycle." - Again the quote from Irina Dunn. See Oft Quoted

Chapter 18:

  • "You like Chinese food?" "I never had any." - How can you tell that a teenager's parents are neglectful and have not properly exposed their progeny to the basics of life? The same thing Spenser noticed about Paul Giacomin in chapter 5 of Early Autumn.

Chapter 19:

  • "Shut up, she explained." - One of my favorite lines from Chance, and the first time I noticed Parker breaking from his usual narrative style. See what I mean at You Don't Say

Chapter 20:

  • Spike has a cabaret act at the restaurant and they are performing a medley of songs from World War II. We are given some of the lyrics: "...praise the Lord and pass the ammunition..." This title of a song by Frank Loesser was based on a real incident. The full story and lyrics can be found at the Pearl Harbor site and I put it on the Lyrics page.
  • "...with anyone else but me..." Don't sit under the Apple Tree (with anyone else but me) was written by Lew Brown, Charles Tobias and Sam H. Stept. It became a standard for several singers over the years but I found what I believe are the earliest Lyrics.
  • "...a hubba hubba, hello, Jack..." A slight variation on the song Dig You Later, words by Harold Adamson, music by Jimmy McHugh in 1945 and introduced in the film Doll Face. Perry Como and Martha Stewart (no, not that one) sang and danced to it and it later became one of Perry's standards. See Lyrics
  • "...remember Pearl Harbor, as we march against the foe..." Remember Pearl Harbor, words by Don Reid, music by Don Reid and Sammy Kaye. I found it at the same site as the first one: and included it on the Lyrics page.

Chapter 21:

  • "If at first you don't succeed have something else for supper." - See Oft Quoted
  • "the perversity of inanimate objects." - This disappears into the static but it often pops up as Flagle's Law of the same as a subset of Murphy's Law, the primary principle being "whatever can go wrong will."

Chapter 24:

  • "It would be nice...if I weighed two hundred pounds and used to be a boxer." - Simone and I looked at each other (over the internet) and giggled. Has Sunny seen a fellow detective jogging around town? Is his ad in the Yellow Pages just below hers?

Chapter 25:

  • "You're going to the mattresses." - Simone writes "I do know that this is from The Godfather, although I don't know exactly what it means. What I think is, it means you have to do something, react. Could it have something to do with martial arts and the mattresses one uses to exercise?" Bruce Knight remembered the book from which the movie was made and offered the following: "When it looked like a mob war was about to begin the capos would prep a few unfurnished apartments for the soldiers to sleep at, someplace where they wouldn't be found and slaughtered. They'd just throw a lot of mattresses on the floor of said apartments so that the soldiers could sleep; this was a serious step to take, hence the term 'going to the mattresses.' Sorta like Mafia Defcon 2."
Very well put, Bruce. Book 1, chapter 6, although my Italian brother-in-law assures me that Mario Puzo did not make up the phrase but was explaining its historical background. To quote from the novel:
“Whenever a war between the Families became bitterly intense, the opponents would set up headquarters in secret apartments where the ‘soldiers’ could sleep on mattresses scattered through the rooms. This was not so much to keep their families out of danger, their wives and little children, since any attack on noncombatants was undreamed of. All parties were too vulnerable to similar retaliation. But it was always smarter to live in some secret place where your everyday movements could not be charted either by your opponents or by some police who might arbitrarily decide to meddle.
And so usually a trusted caporegime would be sent out to rent a secret apartment and fill it with mattresses. That apartment would be used as a sally port into the city when an offensive was mounted.”

Chapter 26:

  • "Boston cremes...the best." - A donut with a custard filling and topped with a thick chocolate frosting. In Early Autumn Spenser called them "disgusting" and, like Sunny, opted for the plain variety.
  • "Three would be a really unlucky number for you." - The "three strikes" laws in some states call for a very long sentence after a third felony conviction. California has taken it to the extreme, meting out 25 years to life for guys who stole videotapes, golf clubs or, in the most extreme example, a slice of pepperoni pizza.
I looked through the General Laws of Massachusetts and as far as I can tell it only applies to sex crimes here so I'm not sure if Bucko has to worry about it for his activities. Then again I am not a lawyer and indeed wash my hands carefully after meeting one so the question remains open.

Chapter 29:

  • "The devil who has hold of your forearm is better than the devil who's not around." - A variation of the 19th century proverb "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know."
  • "There was a guy during the Troubles named Cathal Brugha." - A patriot and hero in the war of Irish independence, killed in 1922. He seems to have split from the IRB to form the IRA, which has little in common with the current organization calling itself by that name. The flux of the two Irelands for and against England is a subject I refuse to research further.

Chapter 31:

  • The fun of working with search engines. Simone followed most of these and I filled in a few details: "... I located Brock Patton. He was in among all the listings on the planet that contained the words Brock or Patton. I got a zillion articles on (a)General Patton, and several on a football player named (b)Brock Marion, and quite a few on an actor named (c)Brock Peters, and a politician named (d)Brock, and two on a football player named (e)Peter Brock, and another one named (f)Stan Brock..."
a) General George S. Patton Jr., commander of the 3rd U.S.Army
b) Brock Marion, Defensive Back Dallas Cowboys 1994 Super Bowl Champions
c) Brock Peters, born on July 2nd 1927 as George Fisher. Played "Tom Robinson" in "To Kill a Mockingbird", or in "Roots The Next Generation" (He also played Joseph Sisko, Ben Sisko's father in "Star Trek Deep Space Nine" who is played by Avery Brooks, Hawk of the television series)
d) I don't know which one he (she) means
e) Nothing about a football player, plenty of hits on a celebrated Australian race car driver. Read about his career at
f) Brock played 16 years in the NFL, thirteen of them for the New Orleans Saints. Later served in the Arena Football League for three years as head coach of the Portland Dragons before moving to the same post with the Los Angeles Avengers before being dismissed on 28 April 2001.

Chapter 35:

  • "Sticks and stones." - "...may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." Old saying.
  • "Gayer than laughter." - From the song Younger than Springtime, words by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstien II. It's in the musical South Pacific, which was based on the works of James Michener. See Lyrics

Chapter 36:

  • "So they've burned Tara, the bastards...we can build it again." - A reference to Gone With the Wind, the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell and the 1939 movie starring Clark Gabel and Vivien Leigh. Tara was not destroyed as Sunny's apartment was but her will to carry on is even more powerful than Scarlett O'Hara's.

Chapter 39:

  • "When he had left with visions of lemon-frosted scones dancing in his head." - Simone noted the reference to Clement Clarke Moore's A Visit from St. Nicholas [December 1823]: "The children were nested all snug in their beds/while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads."

Chapter 40:

  • "He's such an Italian Stallion." - A nickname applied to Sylvester Stallone back when he was making things like the Rocky movies. A low-class, macho, "hey-let's-have-a-couple-brewskis" kinda guy.

Chapter 42:

  • "There was some kind of Italian movie guy named Antonioni." - Simone notes: "It is Michelangelo Antonioni, an Italian director, born 29 September 1912. Two movies of him I recognize: Blow Up and Zabriskie Point."

Chapter 44:

  • "You better not even think of taking any of those pictures while I'm gone. 'Cause I've got them counted." - See "I smell a catch phrase" in the Notes below.

Chapter 50:

  • "I wish some sort of supershrink would leap out of phone booth" - Iain Campbell was musing that we may have to explain this for our younger fans. Way back in the old days there were these rectangular glass booths with a door that closed and a phone book attached to a chain that private eyes could tear pages with important numbers out of. In the old black and white Superman movies Clark Kent would slip into one of these and do a quick change to his nifty super-outfit (as Iain notes, it "looked more like wrinkled one piece longjohns than Lycra") before flying away. Don't ask me why a glass booth would an inconspicuous place to change clothes. At least if he lived in England he could have asked Dr. Who to share an enclosed callbox.

Chapter 51:

  • "It wouldn't last long; this sort of snowfall never did, and its transience was probably part of why it was so pretty." - Another way of saying that "Death is the Mother of Beauty" as Wallace Stevens did in his poem Sunday Morning. See Oft Quoted for a more detailed discussion.

Chapter 52:

  • "Excelsior." - Ex*cel"si*or, a. [L., compar. of excelsus elevated, lofty, p. p. of excellere.] More lofty; still higher; ever upward. Besides being the motto of New York state it is the title of a famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. See Poetry

Chapter 53:

  • "Nancy Drew." - Edward Stratemeyer had a very successful formula for his company, the Strateymer Syndicate. He would start with an idea for a series of books, hire ghost writers, and publish several volumes of each every year. Bomba the Jungle Boy, Tom Swift, and The Hardy boys (the latter written by Leslie McFarlane under the pen name Franklin W. Dixon) were written for an audience of young men.
In 1929 he hired Mildred Wirt (pen name Carolyn Keene) to write a series of books starring Nancy Drew, a teenager who solved crimes while being cute, perky, and a little ahead of her time in terms of independence.
  • "I am without fear." - Bullets and Beer foreign correspondent Iain Campbell caught this one: "Not normal English, I don't feel. The phrase immediately sends a francophone to Joan of Arc, for whose historians "sans peur et sans reproche", "without fear and without reproach" is a well known cliché. But does it have the same resonance for Parker as for me? He has previously shown familiarity with Middle Ages French history (les neiges d'antan). On the other hand, maybe the cocky Spike is just kidding around and boldly posturing?"

Chapter 54:

  • "like Grant took Richmond." - which is to say, easily. The Confederate army had been decimated by April 1865 when Ulysses S. Grant and the Union soldiers pretty much just marched into the capitol of the Southern rebellion and took over.
  • "Bite my clank." - As far as I know a new phrase has entered the American language. Iain Campbell mulled over possible origins and I agree with one of his theories: clank sound like crank, crank leads to crank shaft, shaft leads to penis. I have heard the phrase "bite my crank" on sitcoms so Parker seems to have acknowledged the fact that Sunny has somewhat different equipment.

Chapter 56:

  • "The seating worked out as meticulously as the seating at the Paris peace conference." - A real life example of "Theater of the Absurd." As American soldiers and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were being slaughtered in a daily dance of death the diplomats dickered over details not only of seating but over the shape of the table. Hundreds of lives were probably lost each time the placement of water pitchers was debated.

Chapter 57:

  • "pushing me, like Lady Macbeth." - To quote Simone: "The play MacBeth by Shakespeare. Macbeth tells his wife of the prophecy the witches gave him, that he will be king, but only if the present king is dead. Lady MacBeth, eager to become queen, urges her husband to commit the murder of the king."
  • "A wife can't testify against her husband." - Brock is stating one of the most well-known tenets of the legal system which simply is not true. Under common law, and in the interest of keeping together a family, one spouse cannot be forced to testify against another in criminal proceedings. Whether they may choose to do so depends upon the laws of the various states. According to the Massachusetts General Laws ch. 233 section 20:
    • "Second, Except as otherwise provided in section seven of chapter two hundred and seventy-three and except in any proceeding relating to child abuse, including incest, neither husband nor wife shall be compelled to testify in the trial of an indictment, complaint or other criminal proceeding against the other."
Note the words forced and compelled. Some states make reference to "confidential communications" made by the individual to the spouse during their marriage as being protected. As far as I can tell it does not apply in this state and Betty Patton can nail her husband to the ground if she should choose to do so.
  • "Some men sink to their knees when I give them my most ingratiating smile. Patton bore up under it manfully." - Ah, pure Parkerism at its best. Spenser is careful not to use this power to its full extent, as women sometimes injured themselves in their haste to disrobe.

Chapter 59:

  • "Simone de Beauvoir." - Existential philosopher, social essayist and noted feminist.

Meanwhile, in the Spenser UniverseEdit

  • There are very few 'absolute' dates given in any of RBP's books. However, the books clearly take place more or less around the time they are written. Thus we can infer that while Sunny is making her debut, Spenser is probably investigating Robinson Nevins' tenure case in Hush Money.
  • As for Jesse Stone, he is probably between the events of Trouble in Paradise and Death in Paradise.


  • The Sleuthette reference above is from Richie in chapter 7.
"The sleuthette business is going okay?"
"You find something patronizing in that?" Richie said.
"Of course not," I said." Any woman loves diminutives."
"Lucky for me," he said.
"Yes," I said. "I remember."
  • I smell a catch phrase: Or at least the situation where a police officer gives a broad wink and, in the interest of plausible deniability, tells the Private Eye not to do something. In ch. 44 Sunny is told not to take any of the photographs because he has counted them and there are 41. There are actually 42 and the count is indeed 41 when she removes one. Parker has been doing that a lot lately. See Police Business

Previous book: none • Next book: Perish Twice

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.