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Most people familiar with the work of Robert B. Parker know of Spenser, the tough Boston P.I. who later became the subject of the popular television series Spenser, For Hire. Parker had been writing Spenser mysteries since the 1970s (with only two or three forays into other types of writing), when he decided to branch out in the late 90's. A new private detective named Jessie Stone came into the mix, a tough but confused ex-cop heading up the Paradise series.

Now, in the last year of the century, Parker surprises us. He's got a new Boston detective working the beat, another ex-cop with the same type of relationship woes as Jessie Stone and the same type of cadre as Spenser. So what makes this new character different?

Her name is Sunny Randall, and she is the first female Parker has ever written about so extensively. After a brief outward look, we are taken into the first-person voice of Randall, a tough former cop trying to live an individual life despite still being in love with her ex-husband. She's tough, a little unsure, and (unlike Spenser) a horrible cook - and at the beginning of Family Honor, she has a new case.

Randall is called upon by Brock and Betty Patton, a couple who don't seem all that concerned that their daughter Millicent has been missing for over a week. Brock is a cocksure misogynist, Betty is an uppity, too-perfect rich wife, and Sunny doesn't much like either of them. Reluctantly, she decides to help the Pattons, thinking this will probably be an open-and-shut of finding a runaway girl and bringing her home.

Like all the best Parker mysteries, this one is far too complex to be open-and-shut. After finding Millicent and scaring off her pimp, Sunny finds herself drawn into a conspiracy of murder. The deeper she digs, the more she discovers about Millicent's parents' frightening extracurricular lives, the twisted secrets they barely kept from their corruptible daughter. At the same time, Sunny finds herself upsetting the delicate peace between rival Boston mobs, Italian and Irish. And when it comes down to kill-or-be-killed, Sunny finds she must face the weakness within herself, and overcome it.

Family Honor is a refreshing breath of air from Parker. At first, the first person point of view is disorienting - you know this is a seventy year old man writing from the point of view of a young, petite woman. The writing is so compelling, though, that you abandon all real-world intrusions early and get sucked into the story. As usual, Parker tries a little hard to be politically correct (especially in some feminist passages near the end, and with Sunny's gay friend Spike) but he never loses sight of the story. Fast-past, exciting and thrilling, the story here is all that really matters.