In the fall of 1999 Spenser creator Robert B. Parker's unleashed a new South Boston private eye, SONYA JOAN "SUNNY" RANDALL. At the time, I remember thinking "This could be a good one--Parker has always shown a talented hand when it comes to female characters. Even Susan Silverman--she may be annoying at times, but she also seems real."
It turned out that that first book, Family Honor (1999), while a little uneven, was a indeed promising start and the series has since developed nicely, thankyouverymuch. In true Parker fashion, ex-cop Sunny's got issues with authority, as well as a complicated love life.
In Sunny's case, it's the torch she still carries for her ex, Richie Burke. It's a bit of a Romeo and Juliet thing going on, in fact. Sunny's family has been in law enforcement forever, and Richie's family is mobbed up. Her dad's been trying to put her former father-in-law in the clink for years. It's part of the reason Sunny quit the force. So now she works as a P.I. and dabbles at being an artist, even occasionally taking an art course or two. Her best friend is restauranteur Spike, the "world's toughest queer," a rather formidable and flamboyant guy who's "gayer than three hummingbirds."
And like Spenser, Sunny has gone to the dogs. She owns a miniature English bull terrier called Rosie, that Sunny denies looks like a possum. Those who aren't exactly enamoured of Pearl the Wonder Dog in the Spenser series should be warned that Parker himself considers Rosie "a prominent character in the book."
A movie deal with Helen Hunt, for whom the first book was written (she's a fan -- and apparently a friend of Parker's), and Columbia Pictures apparently fell through. Too bad -- the actress intended to turn the character into a franchise. Parker's had better luck at that than Hunt -- Sunny has since appeared in three subsequent novels, with more promised.
And as I said the series has steadily improved, moving far away from what initial critics had dismissed as simply Spenser in heels. Sure, Sunny cracks wise and has that tangled and convoluted love thang going with Richie, but she's also far from the self-assured (and much more experienced) Spenser and that's where the fun comes in.
Whereas Spenser is fully formed, bold and assertive, confident to the point of smugness at times, Sunny, in her early thirties, is still on her way, still struggling to come to terms with who she is. She isn't above asking for help, professional or otherwise, seeking out assistance and advice from myriad sources including Spike; her father, a retired Boston cop and Richie's Uncle Felix, a particularly nasty specimen, a stone cold killer for Boston's Irish mob who nonetheless has strong affection for his nephew's ex-wife. Sunny also routinely crosses paths with regulars and supporting characters from Parker's other series. In Melancholy Baby, she goes to a Cambridge therapist to try to make sense of her mixed-up love life. The therapist, of course, turns out to be Spenser's significant other, Susan Silverman, and in Blue Screen she swaps doughnuts (and later, assorted bodily fluids) with Paradise police chief Jesse Stone.
The crossover gimmick definitely borders on too cute at times, particularly with the Jesse Stone affair, but that very playfulness also helps to distinguish the Sunny books them from the often far more sombre Spenser and Jesse Stone series. And it's a hoot to see characters long-established in other series through Sunny's eyes.
ALSO OF INTEREST
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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