51iPNy9243L. SX308 BO1,204,203,200
Series Spenser
Publisher Delacorte Press
Publication date 1989
Media type hardcover
ISBN 0-399-13425-5
Preceded by Crimson Joy
Followed by Stardust

Cover InformationEdit

"For Joan"

Taken from the jacket of the hardcover edition.

Playmates is Parker's new supersizzler starring Spenser, the hard-boiled Boston private eye with a chivalric code. This time Spenser's in for the closest shave of his career when he discovers that college basketball can be a killer sport.

When talent comes, can be graft be far behind? Dwayne Woodcock is arguably the best power forward in all of college basketball, not only the Big East Conference. So why, wonders Spenser, is he shaving points? Leading his Taft U. team to yet another banner season, Dwayne isn't throwing the games; he's just not winning them by enough to cover the spread. Which means that somebody's getting rich off Woodcock's on-court lapses, and Spenser's been hired by the powers at Taft to uncover the whos, hows, and whys.

Abetted by his tough-guy buddy, Hawk, and Susan Silverman, the sexy psychotherapist who is his great good friend, Spenser finds himself involved with all manner of sleaze artists--from corrupt academics to wise-guy hoods with graduate degrees. As his search propels him from the groves of academe into grungy bars and, finally, into a bloody confrontation with almost certain death, Spenser battles to salvage the soul of an arrogant young athlete--even if he has to go to hell and back to do it....

This latest addition to the Spenser series is as spellbinding a thriller as any Parker fan could ask for: Playmates is an unqualified success.

(is it me, or was this a really lame jacket blurb? "Susan Silverman, the sexy psychotherapist who is his great good friend" - oh puh-leeze. I think I'm going to puke.)

Taken from the back cover of the paperback edition

"Spenser scores again! In Robert B. Parker's newest, most electrifying bestseller, America's favorite iron-pumping, gourmet-cooking private eye smells corruption in college town. Taft University's hottest basketball star is shaving points for quick cash. And if Spenser doesn't watch his own footwork, the guilty parties will shave a few years off his life..."

Recurring CharactersEdit

  • Vince Haller puts in a brief appearance as the lawyer for the University, and is responsible for getting Spenser the job investigating point shaving.
  • Gerry Broz (cf. The Widening Gyre) shows up for a short scene, as the person who recommended some muscle to try and kill off Spenser (ha).
  • Frank Belson pops up at one point (well, he is a homicide detective, and people are always dying in these Spenser jaunts).
  • As does Lt. Quirk.
  • Susan offers some assistance in investigating Dwayne's suspected illiteracy.
  • Hawk does bodyguard work, as well as deflating Dwayne's ego (something which is sorely needed).
  • Detective Corsetti, NYPD (cf. Taming a Sea Horse), talks to Spenser briefly, while Spenser is searching for information on Bobby Deegan (who does most of his hood-related work out of Brooklyn).
  • Lennie Seltzer (cf. Mortal Stakes) gives Spenser some spread information on several games where points may have been shaved.

Unanswered QuestionsEdit

  • So, who were those people Dwayne and Chantal were staying with? Chantal comes from PA, and Dwayne hails from the Bed-Sty area of Brooklyn. Did either one of them bring family along, or do either one have family living up here, or were they friends?
  • Does Taft University really exist? They're not a member of the Big East (being an employee of UConn, a school whose basketball team is one of the Big East conference members, I know they're not in there). My guess is that Taft is supposed to be Boston College. (It took until the publication of Back Story in 2003 to pin this one down. See Taft)

Literary References, or "The Annotated Gumshoe"Edit

Chapter 1:

  • "Like a stormy kestrel" - I found no hits for this phrase, but I did find the following: "The petrel is a small sea bird...feeding far out at sea on creatures swimming near the surface. One variety is known as the storm petrel. The phrase stormy petrel, derived from the above, can mean 'one fond of strife; a harbinger of trouble.'" Maxim Gorky, "the founder of socialist realism", wrote a very short story called Song of the Stormy Petrel. I liked it so much I included it in Poetry The kestrel is "a small European falcon which hovers against the wind, watching for prey." Conclusion: Spenser may be suggesting that he meets the criteria of a stormy petrel but likens himself more to a falcon. (Morton got the joke right away. The above research took me five hours online and trips to two libraries, not to mention ten cents for a photocopy of the Gorky story.)
  • "You ever stood out in the rain with your guts beat out?" - Did Humphrey Bogart ever say this? Ah, a good excuse to watch Casablanca again: "The wow-finish, a guy standing on a station platform in the rain with a comical look on his face because his insides had been kicked out."

Chapter 2:

  • "It's Lou Grant." - Iain Campbell reminded me to include this cultural reference. Ed Asner played a tough but lovable newspaper editor on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) and Lou Grant (1977-1982).

Chapter 3:

Chapter 5:

  • "...and smiled at me as Mephistopheles might have smiled at Faust..." - I'm a little rusty on my Christopher Marlowe, but I do know that Mephistopheles is another name for the devil, and Faust sold the devil his soul in The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus [1604]. In addition, I believe Faust is also the name of a play by Goethe, with the plot presumably similar to that of Kit Marlowe's work. Mephistopheles was the demon who fulfilled Faust's requests, but he wasn't the devil. Lucifer was the head honcho.

Chapter 7:

  • "You marry a Jew, and you and me be like lunsmen." - Iain Campbell, who I turn to for help with Latin, asked me about this word, which he couldn't find in a dictionary. Here's my reply: "Fortunately I have another language expert on tap, my Italian brother-in-law Jim Evangelista, Registered Pharmacist. He once worked at a pharmacy owned by a Jewish family, who would point out "Evangelista? You are a good man, but you're not a lunsman." Colloquially he was not "a member of the tribe." It may be Hebrew or Yiddish, but my guess is that Parker has once again misspelled a word, as my research has been no more successful than yours." Simone Hochreiter writes from Germany: "I don't speak Yiddish, but there is a German word "Landsmann" (which means 'member of the-same-native state.') which sound like 'lundmen.' Yiddish sometimes sounds very much like German." Well, Yiddish is a language of the Diaspora which borrowed from many of the places the tribes of Israel found themselves living among so that is a very good explanation.

Chapter 8:

  • "More deadly than the adder's the foul mouth of an unusually short gym owner." - See Oft Quoted

Chapter 10:

  • "Nature's first green is crocus" - Probably a play on "Nature's first green is gold." From Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost. See Poetry.
  • "Ah June, 'tis a devious job I do" - Just Spenser being literary and foolish again?
  • "Thanks, June. You don't have a husband named Ward, do you?" -Iain Campbell again noted that I should include this cultural reference. June and Ward Cleaver, played by Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont, were the parents of Theodore and Wallace (AKA Beaver and Wally), played by Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow in the TV show Leave it to Beaver, which ran from 1957 to 1963. If you are looking for an upbeat take on American family values in the 1950's it's hard to find a better example.
  • "Sonya Live from L.A." - George Waller points out that this was a Cable News Network talk show starring psychologist Dr. Sonya Friedman.
  • "Opus the penguin." - George Waller noted Chantel's mug has a picture of this beloved little guy: "Opus the penguin is a character in the comic strips and children's books of Berke Breathed, most notably the popular 1980's strip Bloom County. Breathed has described him as an 'existentialist penguin' and the favorite of his many characters."

Chapter 11:

  • "There's no such thing as a bad boy." - See Oft Quoted
  • "He ain't heavy, he's my brother" - See Oft Quoted.

Chapter 12:

  • "Well, like the old joke, we've established what you are, now we're just haggling over price." - Iain Campbell has traced it back to George Bernard Shaw talking to a proud socialite, but it's too widespread now to be sure. Anyone care to provide solid documentation? I will paraphrase my first contact with it on the Playboy humor page circa 1970:
Man: Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?
Woman: Yes, of course.
Man: Would you do it for ten dollars?
Woman: No, what do you take me for?
Man: We have already settled that, we are now simply haggling over your price."

Chapter 15:

  • "[There's a] sucker born every minute" - Attributed to P[hineas] T[aylor] Barnum (1810-1891).
  • "What's this we, white man." - See Oft Quoted

Chapter 17:

  • "Troy Murphy." - Dixie has a picture of the man, a former point guard on his college team who moved on to the Portland Trailblazers. As I am writing this ten years later there is a sophomore on the Notre Dame 1999-00 Men's Basketball Roster named Troy Murphy. He plays forward and was the 1999 BIG EAST Rookie of the year. Quite a coincidence.

Chapter 18:

  • "Sleep with the fishes." - Gerry Broz cracks up Hawk with this line. It's from The Godfather (1972).

Chapter 19:

  • "The building that used to Bonwit's and was going to be Louis'." - Once again Parker goes with proper grammar and gets it wrong. I'll accept the shortening of Bonwit Teller but the upscale store replacing it is called Louis. No possessive necessary.
  • "And on the seventh day I'll rest" - An allusion to Genesis 2:2, where God created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh.

Chapter 21:

  • "Hey, white shadow." - The White Shadow was a 1978-81 TV series starring Ken Howard as a white former NBA professional who retires and gets a job as a basketball coach in a predominantly black inner-city high school

Chapter 22:

  • "...reading Roger Angell's new book." - RBP wrote this in 1988. Angell's book Season Ticket: A Baseball Companion came out that year.
  • "Well, if 'tis to be done...better it be done quickly." - See Oft Quoted
  • "You're glad to see me." - Iain Campbell reminded me to look this one up. It's an adaptation of Mae West's line "Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me" from the movie She Done Him Wrong (1933, Lowell Sherman) which was an adaptation of her stage hit Diamond Lil.
  • "It's because my heart is pure." - See Oft Quoted and Poetry (Sir Galahad)
  • "She put on a robe of many colors." - George Waller pointed out this reference to Genesis 37:3 [King James Version]: "Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors."

Chapter 23:

  • "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." - Samuel Johnson, Boswell: Life of Johnson [1791], April 7, 1775.

Chapter 24:

  • "George Lyman Kittredge couldn't have added enough insight." - Kittredge (1860-1941) has been called "The Greatest American Shakespearian." His insights into the plays filled a few books.
  • "Frederick Jackson Turner." - A historian (1861-1932). Ph.D. from John Hopkins. His book The Significance of Sections in American History won a Pulitzer in 1932.

Chapter 29:

  • "Why, you are doubtless wondering, did I call this meeting" - Not sure of the exact source, but it usually pops up in murder mysteries and the lot: "you're probably wondering why I called you all here," and so forth. Nero Wolfe did that a lot, but it has indeed become a cliche.
  • "Why not send the very best." - ...Hawk said in a radio announcer voice with no hint of ethnicity. Iain Campbell pointed out that this was a rewording of "When you care enough to send the very best" from the ads of the Hallmark greeting card company. The following is my somewhat stream-of-consciousness reply: "This may be a little hard to explain, as we are dealing with media announcers, the history of manufacturers sponsoring television shows, and differences in accents blatantly obvious to those within a few miles of the source, which I am sure is not unknown outside of the United States of America.
For the past fifty years or so the greeting card company has sponsored a series of excellent dramas under the overall title of The Hallmark Hall of Fame. Some of them were adaptations of popular plays but many of them were original productions, and most featured the best actors of the given era. (the titles would take more research but would knock your socks off)
The lead-in to each commercial was given by a voice-actor who I can still clearly hear in my mind. I'm still not sure how they do it, but they strip every localism out of their delivery and give an intonation that comes from everywhere and nowhere."

Chapter 30:

  • "You are the yenta in this thing" - In the play/musical "Fiddler on the Roof," Yenta was the matchmaker in the village of Anatevka, and she was always trying to pair people up and get them married off, making her the subject of the song "Matchmaker, Matchmaker." Now, getting back to Playmates, since Madelaine got Bobby Deegan and Dwayne hooked up for the point shaving business, the term yenta fits her in a slightly-unorthodox sort of way. Thus endeth the lesson [professor mode off].

Chapter 31:

  • "your goomba, Hawk." - Iain Campbell asked about this and I once again had a talk with my Italian-American brother-in-law. I replied with the following: "Goomba" is a curious word. It seems to mean "close friend" and is associated with Italian-Americans but it does not relate to any word in Italian or Latin. My brother-in-law thinks it was a slang term given to American gangsters who had come from Italy, or relationships with La Cosa Nostra by those of another ethnic group, the Irish being the main suspects. Running an etymological research in that direction is far beyond my powers. Of course the conflict between Irish and Italian mobsters is detailed in several of Dr. Parker's books."
  • "Didn't Robert Stack say that in The Untouchables?" - George Waller noted the following: "The Untouchables was a 1959-1963 TV series; Special agent Eliot Ness and his elite team of incorruptible agents battled crime in 1930's Chicago. Robert Stack played Eliot Ness."
  • "Father Flannigan" - Yet another Boys Town reference. See Oft Quoted.

Chapter 32:

  • "Book by Steven Hawking, 'bout the universe" - That would be A Brief History of Time. Like Roger Angell's book mentioned above, this was published in 1988. Hawking has pretty much defined the cutting edge of scientific thought on these matters for many years now.
  • "I thought you New York guys never slept." - Referring to the song New York, New York. Written for the musical of the same name in 1977, it was performed by Liza Minelli. Frank Sinatra recorded it in 1980 and it got to #32 in the charts, becoming one of his standards. See Lyrics.

Chapter 34:

  • "Mr. Fucking Rogers." - George Waller sent in the following: "Fred Rogers was the very mild star of a children's TV series "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" which ran on PBS from 1967-2001" I have been known to do a dead-on impersonation of him looking through the camera and telling kids "Do you know why I like you? Because you're you." Rest in peace, Fred.

Chapter 36:

  • "Love's different. It doesn't alter where it alteration finds." - William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116. See Oft Quoted.

Meanwhile, in the Spenser UniverseEdit

  • Spenser's lawyer, Vince Haller, represents the Taft board of trustees. Good work if you can find it...
  • Spenser's "Broo List":
    • Chapter 1: Sam Adams, at the Clarendon Club during Spenser's interview with the Taft people.
    • Chapter 4: Draft beer, at the Lancaster Pub on the Taft campus (during lunch with Dixie Dunham).
    • Chapter 15: Lone Star beer, at the East Coast Grill (in Inman Square).

Favorite LinesEdit

Chapter 1: The joy of dress codes

"'No sneakers,' Haller told me. 'No jeans, no open shirts with that idiotic gold chain you wear that's at least six years out of fashion.'
'Susan gave it to me,' I said.
'Sure,' Haller said and gave me a look I'd seen him give witnesses during cross examination. It was a look that said you are a bigger simp than Michael Jackson.
Which is why, on the last day of February, I was strolling up Commonwealth in my gray suit wearing a blue oxford shirt with a traditional roll in the collar, and a yellow silk tie that whispered power. ... I was dressed to the nines, armed to the teeth, ready to lunch with the WASPs. If I hadn't been me, I'd have wished I were."

Chapter 1: Hazard pay

"'If we can agree on the costs, are you willing to sign on for this?' Morton said.
'Sure,' I said. 'My fee increases twenty percent, though, if your coach is mean to me.'"

Chapter 2: Discipline and control...

"It is hard to remain dignified when being laughed at by a group of adolescents. I succeeded, however. I left without giving them the finger."

Chapter 3: Where no man has gone before...

"'Gee,' I said, 'that robe seems to fall open very revealingly.'
'Must be a design flaw,' Susan said.
'Well, I certainly wouldn't have bought it if I'd known it was a second,' I said.
'The thought of you in Victoria's Secret is heart warming, though,' Susan said.
'I blushed,' I said.
'Good to know you can,' Susan said..."

Chapter 6: Yeah, but did he ever dedicate a book to her? [See Notes below]

"On the table top in front of me was carved RP+JH. The table top was covered with initials but RP+JH was carved deeper, and looked more permanent."

Chapter 6: Can't win 'em all

"I gave her the complete smile. The one where my eyes crinkle at the corners and two deep dimples appear in my cheeks. Women often tore off their underwear and threw it at me when I gave them the complete smile.
Ms. Merriman didn't."

Chapter 7: How about "The Bookie and I?"

I finished off my whiskey and stared at the beer. My head was beginning to feel thick, and my face felt a little separate from the world, as if there were a transparent layer of insulation on it. Be a nice title for a novel, I thought, Boilermakers in the Afternoon.

Chapter 8: It's probably a good thing she doesn't have a dog, then

"Susan seemed to me the most beautiful and intelligent woman I'd ever met. She had great warmth and compassion and humor. She had a top-of-the-line body, and strength of character and an appropriate sexual appetite. But as a larder keeper she ranked somewhat below Old Mother Hubbard."

Chapter 15: Spenser's notes on elegant dining

"I was struggling happily with my ribs. Normally I ended up with barbecue sauce in my socks when I ate ribs, but I always figured they were worth it."

Chapter 18: Perhaps some minnows, instead. Or maybe sardines...

"'Hawk, you hear this conversation?' I said.
Hawk shook his head.
'Gerry says if I get in the way I'm going to sleep with the fishes.'
Hawk's quiet face broke into a slow widening grin.
'Sleep with the fishes?' he said.
I was smiling too. 'Yeah.'
Hawk began to chuckle quietly and then to laugh and finally he bent over on his stool and pressed his hands against his stomach and laughed.
'Sleep with the fishes,' he said, his voice shaking. 'Sleep with the fucking fishes.'
'Guppies,' I said to Gerry,' could I sleep with some guppies? I always sort of liked guppies.'"

Chapter 22: Luke, I am your father...

"She put on her robe of many colors and got out one out for me. It was black, with a hood. I looked like Darth Vader in it. But Susan liked it. She draped it over the foot of the bed."

Chapter 23: Yes, ma'am

"Susan shook her head. 'You are a piece of work,' she said.
'Says so,' I said, 'on ladies' room walls all over the country.'
'No,' Susan said, 'It doesn't.'"

Chapter 25: There you have it, from the expert's mouth.

"I hung up and went to my file cabinet in the corner so when the door opened it was concealed. Susan said it was the single ugliest piece of furniture she had ever personally seen, through a friend of hers who worked for Bedford Travel claimed to have seen an uglier piece in Paraguay in 1981."

Chapter 25: Do paralegals make good sexual chew-toys?

"I got out the phone book and looked up the paralegal's number and dialed. In a moment I heard the phone ring across the hall. She answered.
I said, 'This is Spenser across the hall. There's an escaped sex fiend loose in the building. He's masquerading as a big good-looking black guy and I wondered if you'd seen him.'
There was a pause.
'He's drawn obsessively to paralegals,' I said.
'Does he rip off their clothes and do unspeakably kinky stuff?' she said.
'Often,' I said.
'My God, he's here,' she said.
'Want me to come over?'
'Hell no,' she said, 'leave us alone.'
She giggled again, blatantly now, into the phone.
'Oh hell,' I said, 'let me speak to him.'
In a moment Hawk said, 'Hello.'
'I'm going down to Henry's and set new records on the Nautilus,' I said. 'If you're not at the moment of climax perhaps you'd care to stroll along and learn something.'
I heard Hawk speak off the phone. 'He worried,' Hawk said, 'that we at the moment of climax.'
I hung up and headed out to the gym. The sex fiend joined me in the hall. 'Jealousy an ugly thing,' he said."

Chapter 27: Close enough for government work

"'What you going to do when you find him?' Hawk said.
'Don't screw this up,' I said. 'It's almost a plan.'"

Chapter 27: Definitely not an early-riser

"'Get them to cover his house,' I said, 'from six at night to seven...' Hawk frowned at me, '...ah, make it eight, in the morning. Hawk will take him the rest of the time.'
We hung up.
'Seven A.M.?' Hawk said. 'Surely you jest."
'Hell, I was worried you'd be insulted when I said you couldn't do twenty-four hours.'
'Can,' Hawk said, 'is different than want to.'"

Chapter 27: Probably not much need for a curve, then

"When Hawk was gone, I called Frank Belson.
'I need the make and plate number of a car registered to Madelaine Roth,' I said.
'And you think I'm a registry inspector,' Belson said.
'I figure you wanted to be, but flunked the test,' I said.
'Only way to flunk that one is to die near the beginning of it,' Belson said."

Chapter 29: It's not the size that counts...

"Hawk's .44 Magnum was out, the long barrel resting lazily on his shoulder. I took the Browning off my hip. It looked sort of embarrassing next to the Mag. 'Is that a siege weapon?' I said."

Chapter 36: They don't care, as long as they get a good tip

"I slurped an oyster and gestured with my wine list at the waiter.


'Gewürtztraminer,' I said. 'The Trimbach.'
He smiled approvingly and hustled off after the wine. Waiters smile approvingly if you order cough syrup."


  • Chapter 1: Red Flannel hash with ketchup at the Clarendon Club.
  • Chapter 4: A club sandwich at the Lancaster Tap.
  • Chapter 5: Homemade johnny cake at his place.
  • Chapter 8: Two sandwiches, all-natural peanut butter on whole wheat.
  • Chapter 9:
    • Chinese take-out at Susan's.
    • Smoked turkey sandwiches from Mt. Auburn Market and Cape Cod potato chips at Susan's watching the tapes.
    • At home, fresh crabmeat sautéed in olive oil and white wine with red and yellow and green peppers and mushrooms. With potatoes and broccoli dressed with honey mustard.
  • Chapter 11: Black bean cake with a slice of cob smoked ham and a fried egg on it, followed by Peking Duck at Rocco's.
  • Chapter 15: Dinner with Hawk at the East Coast Grill.

Ribs, beans, watermelon, and a big slab of cornbread. Bread pudding with whiskey sauce for dessert.

  • Chapter 22: Dinner at his place. Endive with sliced avocado and mango, with a dressing of first-press olive oil, lemon juice, and honey. Cob smoked turkey, tomato chutney, whole wheat rolls and some cranberry conserve they had put up the previous fall.
  • Chapter 29: Sweet potato pancakes at Susan's.
  • Chapter 36: Dinner at Rarities in the Charles Hotel. Oysters as an appetizer. Venison


  • Chapter 1: Sam Adams at the Clarendon Club.
  • Chapter 4: Draft beer at the Lancaster Tap.
  • Chapter 7: Lennie orders him a shot of Irish whiskey and a draft at the Yorktown Tavern.
  • Chapter 9: Sam Adams at Susan's with Tommy Christopher while watching the tapes.
  • Chapter 11: Vodka martini on the rocks with a twist at Rocco's.
  • Chapter 15: Lone Star beer at the East Coast Grill in respect to the barbecue.
  • Chapter 22: Cristal champagne with Susan at his place.
  • Chapter 32: Glenfiddich from the office bottle.
  • Chapter 36: Gewurztraminer. The Trimbach.


  • Hawk has a tape of Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys in the Jag. I always knew he had good taste in music. BTW Kinky turned writer and has a very good and extremely funny series of detective novels out there.
  • As quoted above in Chapter 6: "On the table top in front of me was carved RP+JH. The table top was covered with initials but RP+JH was carved deeper, and looked more permanent." Dr. Parker's wife, the subject of quite a few dedications, was born Joan Hall. And in the non-Spenser novel Love and Glory the main character finds those initials carved into a school desk while he is attending Taft University. It seems Spenser is not the only one to have found a true life-mate.
  • Oops: Bruce Krulwich wrote in with another continuity error in the series: In Ceremony ch 20 Spenser and Susan have Johnny Cakes for Thanksgiving breakfast. "It may be an acquired taste, but Suze and I were nothing on a holiday if not authentic." But then in this book ch 5 Spenser makes Johnny Cake for breakfast, and Susan asks "what are these doughballs you're cooking?" and they have a whole patter about it, clearly saying that it's Susan's first time eating them.
  • Show me the money: Taft University pays his usual rates until he is fired for not being totally open about the case. Where have we heard that before?

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