Taming A Sea Horse  
Taming a Sea-Horse
Series Spenser
Publisher Delacorte Press
Publication date 1986
Media type hardcover
ISBN 0-385-29461-1
Preceded by A Catskill Eagle
Followed by Pale Kings and Princes

Cover InformationEdit

"For Joan"

Taken from the jacket flap of the hardcover edition

"April Kyle, the teenage prostitute Spenser saved in Ceremony, has made a potentially disastrous career change: she's left the expensive brothel run by high-class madam Patricia Utley in favor of turning tricks for the man she loves - Robert Rambeaux, supposedly a student at Julliard.

It doesn't take Spenser long to determine that Rambeaux's interests include more than music and his stable more than April. Spenser questions Ginger Buckey, one of Rambeaux's hookers, and the two develop a guarded affection for each other.

Then April disappears.

As Spenser - with the help of Hawk and Susan Silverman - searches for April, he finds himself moving back and forth between the world of high-class prostitute and that of her wealthy clients. Taming a Sea-Horse, the thirteenth Spenser novel, shows us that two worlds are not as different as they seem, for in both, the relationship between sex, money, power, and ownership can be inextricable - and often deadly."

Taken from the back of the paperback edition

"Nice girls don't. But blond, beautiful April Kyle does. She's a hooker hooked on the wrong guy--and she's on her way to trouble. And so's Spenser. Looking out for April has landed him amid the sleaze of Times Square and the shady deals of big-business boardrooms where blood money is laundered into long green, sex is a commodity, and young girls are the currency."

Recurring CharactersEdit

  • April Kyle (cf. Ceremony) is once again the little girl lost for whom Spenser is searching.
  • Patricia Utley (cf. Mortal Stakes) is the madam for whom April worked. When she leaves to join a less-"classier" operation, Patricia is worried and contacts Spenser.
  • Tony Marcus (cf. Ceremony) is back as the crime lord in charge of sleaze in the Combat Zone.
  • Detective Corsetti, NYPD, is the person in charge of the murders in New York City. We'll see him again (sort of).
  • Hawk helps Spenser do stakeout work when trying to discover who Warren is.
  • Belson makes a brief appearance when they discover Spenser's card on the body of a murder victim in New York.
  • Susan offers insight into April's rationale behind leaving Patricia Utley, and spends some pleasant time with him in St. Thomas and a nice canoeing trip up the Charles.

Unanswered QuestionsEdit

  • Who is Mr. Milo, and if he's such a bad-ass, why haven't we heard of him before?
  • For that matter, we haven't heard about him since. What gives? He's obviously higher than Tony Marcus, and Tony's a pretty big deal.

Literary References, or "The Annotated Gumshoe"Edit

The significance of the title: "Nay, we'll go / Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, / Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, / Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!" - Robert Browning, My Last Duchess [1842]. Glenn Everett writes: "Browning's Duke is a man who must OWN things. He places the emphasis not on the beauty of the artwork or (the fictional) Claus's skill in creating it, but on the fact that it is his property. Apparently the Last Duchess did not sufficiently comprehend this characteristic of her husband."

Chapter 1:

  • "Down and down I go...round and round I go." - A line from That Old Black Magic by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. See Lyrics
  • "Else what's a heaven for." - Robert Browning, Andrea Del Sarto [1855], line 97 "A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a heaven for?" See Oft Quoted.
  • "Put money in thy purse." - Shakespeare, Othello [1604-5], Act I, Scene 3, line 345. Glenn Everett writes: "Note that this advice comes from Iago."

Chapter 2:

  • "Doctor, I have a problem with priapism." - According to my dear old friend Noah Webster: "Priapism n. persistent erection of the penis...[fr. L.L. Priapismus fr. Gk fr. Priapizien, to act the part of Priapus] And who was Priapus? Noah went on to explain: "Priapus: Greek god of fertility, son of Dionysus and Aphrodite, guardian deity of gardens, vineyards and herds. His cult spread to Greece during the time of Alexander. He personified male procreative power."

The full exchange is in Favorite Lines further down the page. Dr. Silverman was less than helpful over the telephone but her bedside manner was more than adequate elsewhere in the book.

Chapter 3:

  • "Uncle Pandarus." - A character in William Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida (1601), based on Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1386), ultimately derived from Greek stories of the Trojan war. Pandarus put all his efforts into getting his niece into bed with his friend Troilus. His name endures in the english word pander, which my Webster's defines as "a procurer for prostitutes."
  • "The great big city's a wondrous toy." - From the song Manhattan, words by Lorenz Hart, music by Richard Rogers. See Lyrics

Chapter 4: "Ah wilderness." - See Oft Quoted

Chapter 5:

  • "Be prepared." - Motto of the Boy Scouts of America.
  • "New York state of mind." - Hisao Tomihari points out that this is the title of a Billy Joel song, from the album Turnstiles, one of my personal favorites. See Lyrics
  • "Lullaby of Broadway." - This song is intertwined with American movies and musical theater. Originally written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren for Gold Diggers of 1935 (a Warner Brothers/Vitaphone film) it later turned up in 42nd Street and Lullaby of Broadway, both of which started out as Broadway musicals and completed the cycle by being made into movies. See Lyrics (A belated thanks to Iain Campbell. A full month before I found this on my own he mentioned it in an E-mail that was still sitting in my "to be investigated later" file.)

Chapter 6:

  • "New York offers the gift of loneliness" - E. B. White
  • "In New York's tumultuous heart, any mortal may, if they so wish, live closer to themselves, or any person who desires such odd prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. " The book is Here is New York, published in 1950.
  • "They probably sensed I am pure of heart" - Hisao Tomihari found this one. See Oft Quoted

Chapter 7:

  • Two lines of dialogue to set this up. "I only smoke when I'm drinking," she said. "It might be nice with something cool," I said. Gary Langefeld wrote in to note that it is from the song "Something Cool" by Billy Barnes. I couldn't pin down the year but Mr. Barnes is considered a master of the revue form.
A cigarette, no, I don't smoke them
As a rule
But, I'll have one, it might be fun
With something cool
See Lyrics

Chapter 11:

  • "If at first you don't succeed, the hell with it." - See Oft Quoted
  • "You're like a breath of spring...a whole new thing has happened." - From You Wonderful You, lyrics by Jack Brooks and Saul Chaplin, music by Harry Warren, from the MGM musical Summer Stock, 1950, starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. See Lyrics
  • "Helluva town," I murmured. "The Bronx is up and the Battery's down." - A line from the song New York, New York written by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green for the 1944 musical On The Town. There was also a movie of the same name with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra in 1949

Chapter 14:

  • "Fatherhood rests but lightly on you, Vern." - The closest I came to this was Ronald Beesley, The Sequence of Time. "For time does not lay heavy upon the seeker of the soul, it rests but lightly." I can supply no provenance on this one and the question remains open. Thanks to Iain Campbell for leading me to look into it.

Chapter 16:

  • "What's this 'we' shit, white man." - See Oft Quoted

Chapter 18:

  • "A thing is what it is...and not something else." - This sounds to me like a paraphrasing of what Iago was saying in Othello Act 1, scene 1, but I could very well be wrong. And Judy Bogdanove wrote in with a better idea: "A thing is what it is....etc..." is, I believe, a reference to Aristotle, (a truism attributed to Aristotle -- "A is A") Excellent. See A is A: Aristotle's Law of Identity for further discourse

Chapter 19:

  • "Nature red in tooth and claw" - Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In memoriam [1850], 56, stanza 4.
  • "Death is the mother of beauty" - Wallace Stevens, Sunday Morning [1923], stanza 5. See Poetry and Oft Quoted.

Chapter 20:

  • "Gunga Din." - Iain Campbell noted this reference. Brutus the bodyguard, resplendent in his uniform of the British Empire, on which the sun never sets. Which is probably why Spenser calls him Gunga Din. Though of course, Rudyard Kipling's Gunga Din was a skinny little Indian water-boy supplying water to the troops, even during battle, thus earning the refrain: 'You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din' Kipling's short poem was actually made into an adventure epic, 1939, with VictorMcLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Cary Grant. Right you are. See Poetry
  • "Et tu, Brutus" (spoken to a character by the name of Brutus) - a play on William Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar [1599], Act III, Scene 1, line 77: "Et tu, Brute?" - "And you, Brutus?" However, the original words as spoken by the real Julius Caesar were: "You also, Brutus my son," supposedly spoken in Greek. You learn something new every day.
  • "I thought a duck might come down from the ceiling..." is a reference from the TV show You Bet Your Life, hosted by Groucho Marx. In the show a secret word would be revealed to the audience and if a contestant somehow said the word during the quiz, a duck would drop from the ceiling with a cash prize.

Chapter 21:

  • H. Rider Haggard - an English author often considered the father of the Lost World genre of writing. He authored well known classics like King Solomon's Mines, among other adventure books, which mostly took place in Africa during colonial times. This ties into the decor and dress of some of the staff at the Crown Prince Club that Spenser notes.

Chapter 22: "Sound mind in a healthy body." - See Oft Quoted.

Chapter 23:

  • "a balcony on each room big enough to dance on if you were a hamster." - Did you say "Hamster Dance?" It took almost a decade and a half for computer programming to catch up on the idea. I don't know if this is indeed the original site but it's the best I found still working:
  • "Speaking of head" - For the benefit of our foreign readers let me note that "giving head" is an Americanism for oral sex.
  • "Casper the burly ghost." - Casper was a young ghost who only wanted to be friends with those he encountered. Adults ran off in terror but children would recognize him as a playmate. I put a longer version of this on the Hush Money page. BTW in the words of the classic song he's "Casper, the friendly ghost, the friendliest ghost I know."
  • "I'd smite the sun if it offended me." - This one eluded me for the longest time, but Simone Hochreiter knew that:

"It's from Moby Dick, chapter 36. 'I'd strike the sun if it insulted me.'" Herman Melville, 1851. Thanks Simone.

  • "I think there was Krypton in that drink." - Susan had just mentioned that "the man of steel is full and sleepy." A reference the Superman comics but Doctor Parker has confused the inert gas with "Kryptonite," a chunk of the exploded planet Krypton whose radiation is harmful only to former residents of said planet.

Chapter 24:

  • "What would Eleanor Smeal say?" - Suki seems to be unaware of the issues addressed by the National Organization for Women or the Feminist Majority Foundation, where this dauntless crusader has spent her life fighting for women's rights. If you are interested in the ongoing struggle, I would advise you to visit
  • "Upward and onward." - Iain Campbell found a possible source for this one. The Present Crisis (1844) by James Russell Lowell. "They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of truth."

Chapter 26:

  • "Your worm is your emperor of diet." - William Shakespeare, Hamlet [1600-01], Act IV, Scene 3, line 21: "Your worm is your only emperor of diet." Since we are talking about a dead body Dennis Tallett thought it appropriate to continues the passage: "we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots..."
  • "Readiness is all." - See Oft Quoted.

Chapter 28:

  • "Equal pay for equal work" - Susan Brownell Anthony, The Revolution (woman suffrage newspaper), 18 March, 1869: "Join the union, girls, and together say Equal Pay for Equal Work."
  • "...a guy as visible as Hawk could become entirely invisible whenever he needed to. Maybe he was really Lamont Cranston" - An allusion to The Shadow, the radio serial of the '30's (and 1994 movie). Lamont Cranston was the Shadow, a man who had "the power to could cloud men's minds."

Chapter 29:

  • "My Attorney, Bernie" - song by Dave Frishberg (I'll take his word for it). Dave Frishberg is a jazz piano player and singer. The above song was written in 1983. See Lyrics

Chapter 31:

  • "Maybe I had seen the eternal Footman hold my coat and snicker" - an allusion to T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock [1917]: "And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, and in short, I was afraid." See Poetry.

Meanwhile, in the Spenser universeEdit

  • Linda Thomas no longer works at the ad agency across the street from Spenser's office. It would seem that she's gone for good.
  • Spenser and Hawk's friendship has progressed to the point where either one would give their lives for one another. It's possible that the events in A Catskill Eagle are partially responsible. At any rate, they've gotten to the point where they can rely on one another without thinking about it. Spenser knows that Hawk will always be there for him, and Hawk knows that he can always come to Spenser for help.
  • Spenser's "Broo List":
    • Chapter 7: Draft beer, in a bar on 7th Avenue.
    • Chapter 13: Budweiser (drank by Vern Buckey in Lindell, Maine).
    • Chapter 17: Tsingtao, during lunch with Tony Marcus at a chinese restaurant.
    • Chapter 26: Heineken, in the Parker Meridien Hotel in New York.
  • Spenser prefers Schramsberg for California champagne, while Hawk is a fan of Iron Horse. Both agree that Taittinger is tops for French champagne, although Krug, Cristal, and Dom Perignon are worth a gulp.
  • Both Spenser and Hawk like to eat at Tapas in Porter Square.
  • They also think Ray Robinson is the best fighter that ever lived, that Bill Russell is a good basketball player, Mel Tormé is a good singer, and that Picasso is a good artist.
  • Spenser's old Subaru had given out after 126,000 miles. Is that the one he did a number on in Valediction just a couple of years back? The body shop must have loved to see that towed in. I hope he had the comprehensive insurance option.

Favorite LinesEdit

Chapter 1: Faith in the home team

"I hadn't had lunch with Patricia Utley since the last time the Red Sox won the pennant. That seems like another way to say never, but in fact it had been ten years."

Chapter 1: And how does Smith College feel about this?

"'And my girls get fairly paid and they are not abused and they are free to leave.' She shrugged. 'I never claimed it was Smith College.'
'No need to be defensive,' I said. 'No one accused you of being Smith College.'"

Chapter 1: The joy of the fourth margarita

"I took a sip. It went surprisingly well with the veal. On the other hand, the fourth margarita goes surprisingly well with everything."

Chapter 1: Normal men have been known to completely lose control when confronted with cheesecake. But Spenser? Ha!

"The waitress came with the cheesecake. Mine had cherries on it. I remained calm. Normally cherry cheesecake makes my nostrils flare dramatically. I took a small, dignified bite. Control."

Chapter 2: Fun with answering machines

"I called Susan. Her voice came on after the second ring.

'Hello, this is Dr. Silverman. I can't answer the phone now, but if you have a message for me please leave it at the sound of the beep.'
I said, 'Shit.' But it was before the beep, so it didn't count. After the beep I said, 'Doctor, I have a problem with priapism and need an appointment with you as soon as I can get one. I'm at the St. Regis Hotel. Call me to set up a time.' Then I hung up and watched the news some more.
The phone rang. I answered it. Susan said, 'This is Dr. Silverman. Take a cold shower and call me in the morning.'"

Chapter 4: Bobby doesn't handle adoring fans well

"'What do you want, bothering her?'
'I was hoping she could get me tickets to your next recital,' I said.
Rambeaux sighed and shook his head. 'Everybody's a wiseass,' he said.
'Now don't generalize, Bob,' I said. 'All that has been established here is that I am a wiseass.'"

Chapter 4: Where would we be without a giggle on drab days?

"Lincoln center looked like an expensive complex of Turkish bathhouses, a compendium of neo-Arabic-Spanish and silly. It did for the West Side what the Trump Tower did for the East, offering the chance for a giggle on even the drabbest day."

Chapter 5: Probably kill any cancers in your body, too...

"There were fast-food joints and I was in danger of malnutritive hallucinations, but anything cooked in Times Square would probably give you rabies."

Chapter 5: Justice never sleeps

"I walked over to Sixth Avenue and caught a cab up to 77th street and retrieved my car. The Hertz Corp. had gotten a ticket. Serves them right, parking on a hydrant. I put the ticket in the glove compartment"

Chapter 10: Maybe he's part Klingon

"The door opened a crack, held narrow by a chain.
'What the fuck you want?' Rambeaux said.
I could see just the strip of him that showed through the narrow door. 'Ah, you syrup-tongued dandy,' I said. 'No wonder you're hell with the ladies.'"

Chapter 11: Spenser's axiom for workouts

"The first beer after a workout makes the workout worthwhile."

Chapter 13: And the tax base wouldn't change much, either

"Maine is much bigger than any of the other New England states and large stretches of it are, to put it kindly, rural. Lindell is more rural than most of Maine. If three people left it would be more rural than the moon."

Chapter 13: He still hasn't quite gotten the hang of it

"I was gaining ground, so I shut up and listened. Susan said it was a technique I might consider polishing."

Chapter 15: Didn't they teach you anything in thug school?

"He put his left hand into his side pocket and came out with a pair of brass knuckles. He put them on his right hand and moved it in a little circle at waist level. 'Now what do you think?'
I sighed. 'I think it's been a hard year,' I said. 'And I'm tired. And I think you are dumb as hell to put those things on your right hand, which means it will take you an hour and ten minutes to get your gun out from under your left arm, whereas I...' I took my gun off my hip and showed it to him without really pointing it. He looked at the gun. His right fist stopped moving in a circle.'
I said, 'Sort of embarrassing, huh?'"

Chapter 16: A truly wise man keeps his mouth shut around Hawk

He was wearing a magenta tank top and white satin warm-up pants and a white terry sweatband with a thin magenta stripe in it.
'Christ,' I said. 'Designer sweats.'
Hawk grinned. 'Clothes make the man, babe.'
'Don't people call you a sissy when they see you dressed up like that?'
Hawk's grin widened slightly. 'No,' he said."

Chapter 20: Lieutenant Uhura, report to my office immediately

"He let the chair tilt forward and touched a button on his desk phone. Actually desk phone didn't quite cover it. There were enough buttons and lights and switches to qualify it as a communications console."

Chapter 20: And so tasteful

"I fished a business card out of my shirt pocket and held it out. Gretchen took it and put it on Lehman's desk. He didn't look at it.
'It's a nice card,' I said. 'New design. Crossed blackjacks.'"

Chapter 23: Modesty? I think not

"'People are looking at you,' Susan said.
'My massive upper body?' I said. 'My wasp waist? My Romanesque profile outlined against the azure sea?'
'The several bullet scars against the pale white skin? Don't you ever work on a tan?'
'My face and neck are tan,' I said.
'And your forearms. The rest of you looks like Casper the burly ghost.'
'We northern Europeans don't care to be made sport of by a swarthy Levantine.'
'Well, you need to be careful,' she said, 'or you will burn badly.'
'I'm too tough,' I said.
'I'd smite the sun if it offended me,' Susan murmured."

Chapter 24: I guess he's seen this one before...

"'Can Suki have another grape, Chris?'
I slipped one in her mouth. She ate it sensuously. The old suck-the-grape come-on."

Chapter 27: You gotta use your God-given talents

"'How come you standing around out here annoying everybody?' Hawk said.
'I don't know what else to do,' I said. 'So I figured if I annoyed Lehman enough maybe something would happen and I'd know what to do.'
'You good at annoying,' Hawk said.
'Years of study,' I said.
'Yeah,' Hawk said, 'but you had a natural talent to start with.'"

Chapter 29: Makes a cheap hair dye-job

"I reached into my car and came out with a newly purchased can of Krylon maroon spray paint. I carefully spray-painted the hair of the two shooters.
'Be interesting,' I said to Hawk, 'to hear them explain this one.'
'Punk,' Hawk said. 'They can claim they going punk.'"

Chapter 30: ...And she's got a bar of sniper soap with a laser sight...

"I said, 'Perry, we came to help you, not hurt you.'
'You're trying to help me right out of fucking business,' he said. 'What's this shit about my life being in danger?'
'Miss Manners have a contract out on you,' Hawk said."

Chapter 35: How to phrase this delicately...

"Normally my warm smile does it. Women often undress when I've given them my warm smile. April had no reaction at all. Probably because she didn't see it because she was still eyeing the floor. I thought of other approaches. Look at me or I'll kill you? Probably too direct."


  • Chapter 1: Veal, followed by cherry cheesecake, at Bogie's in Manhattan.
  • Chapter 2: Cobb Salad from room service at the St. Regis Hotel.
  • Chapter 3: A club sandwich at The Brasserie.
  • Chapter 5: Two bagels with cream cheese in his rented car.
  • Chapter 8: Turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich on Pumpernickel at the hotel.
  • Chapter 9: A small croissant at Patricia Utley's house.
  • Chapter 11: Preparing dinner at his apartment:
    • Boneless chicken "marinating in the juice of one lemon and one orange with a little ginger."
    • Endive and avocado salad.
    • Corn meal and onion fritters.
  • Chapter 17: Peking ravioli, Mu-shu pork, and a little chicken with cashews at Ming's Garden while meeting with Tony Marcus.
    • Spenser and Hawk walked away just as the littlenecks in black bean sauce arrived at the table. Passing those up was downright insanity.
  • Chapter 19: Smoked-turkey on whole wheat and smoked salmon on Pumpernickel while picnicking along the Charles River with Susan.
  • Chapter 22: Two corn muffins and a large coffee from Dunkin' Donuts.
  • Chapter 23: Duck with a lime and raspberry sauce, a salad of limestone lettuce, and a fruit tart at Secret Harbor.
  • Chapter 24: Jumbo shrimp, oysters, and Jarlsberg cheese on a cracker at the Crown Prince buffet.
  • Chapter 27: A package of peanut butter Nabs while watching over the front door of the Crown Prince club.
  • Chapter 32: Grilled salmon fillet and assorted grilled vegetables at the Grille Twenty-three.


  • Chapter 1: Margarita's at Bogie's with the meal.
  • Chapter 2: A couple of bottle of Heineken from room service at the St. Regis Hotel.
  • Chapter 7: Draft beer at Freddy's.
  • Chapter 11: A beer at home after working out.
  • Chapter 12: Chandon Blanc de Noirs champagne with Susan at home. Hawk sent them a case of these in the last book.
  • Chapter 17: Tsingtao beer with the meal at Ming's Garden.
  • Chapter 19: White zinfandel with the picnic lunch.
  • Chapter 20: A glass of Port in the lobby of the Crown Price club.
  • Chapter 23: At the hotel in St. Thomas:
    • Margaritas on the beach (on the rocks for him; frozen ones went down too slowly)
    • Iron Horse champagne with supper.
    • Two Baileys on the rocks afterwards.
  • Chapter 24: Rum punch at the buffet, then very cold white jug wine.
  • Chapter 26: Two bottles of Heineken in the lobby bar at the Parker Meridian after his workout.
  • Chapter 32: Beers at the Grille Twenty-three. The choice of champagne to accompany the meal is, of course, left up to Hawk. He chooses Schramsberg.


  • When Spenser visited Art Floyd's house there were Beatles songs playing in the background. In order they were:
    • Penny Lane
    • Maxwell's Silver Hammer
    • Hey Jude
    • Michelle

Spenser's musical tastes were set some years earlier. While he admitted that the Beatles were okay, he thought they did not compare favorably to:

    • The Ink Spots
    • The Mills Brothers
    • The Platters
    • The Ravens
  • When April is delivered to Spenser's office she is wearing a T-shirt with the picture of a penguin and the words PENGUIN LUST. Of course that is good old Opus from the late lamented comic strip Bloom County, penned so well by Berke Breathed.
  • Those golden days of yore: The Crown Prince Club was an obvious takeoff on Hugh Hefner's little idea. When was the last time you saw a Playboy Club?
  • Show me the money: Patricia Utley pays him for some of it, but he's mostly just unwilling to let go of what he has hold of.

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