A Catskill Eagle brought the Spenser series to a crucial mid-80s turning point.
An S.O.S. from Susan Silverman sent both Spenser and Hawk to a small California town where they ran afoul of the rich, powerful family of the man Susan had left Spenser for. Susan was ready to break free, but first Spenser and Hawk had to find her, putting them on a violent, deadly odyssey that landed them in an uneasy alliance with federal agents, with their freedom riding on its success.
Much like its predecessor, the drama of A Catskill Eagle was driven by the Spenser/Susan relationship, even though once again, Susan herself was absent for a large chunk of the story, turning up for the final third or so. But Robert B. Parker had spent years building the Spenser/Susan pairing and had subtly crafted a serious breach between them over the course of several books, which came to a head in this installment. Parker’s willingness to let Susan be unsympathetic was a rewarding creative choice; it scuffed up the halo of perfection that had often surrounded the character, making her more human and far more interesting, while adding some crucial new dynamics to the Spenser/Susan pairing.
But this story was far from a meditative relationship piece, in spite of the focus on Spenser and Susan’s emotional ups and downs. A Catskill Eagle was one of the more action-intensive installments in the series that also made excellent use of the Spenser/Hawk bond. Over the course of the far-reaching plot, the duo: staged a daring jail break; launched an assault on a highly secured estate; stormed a heavily armed mountain retreat; thwarted an ambush on the Boston docks; infiltrated a militaristic corporate compound; and faced down a stronghold built into an Idaho mountain. There were numerous fights and even some good old fashioned car chases, as Spencer and Hawk left a trail of bodies and destruction in their quest for Susan. The dynamic between the two friends and allies was well deployed, often providing some much needed humor to offset the mayhem breaking out around them.
Parker made decent use of some other regulars in the series in limited roles and also brought back a couple of former clients from earlier books to provide support in Spenser and Hawk’s quest. Most crucial in that regard was feminist writer Rachel Wallace, who had come off as a one-dimensional walking issue in the novel that bore her name, but here was allowed to be a full-bodied person and far more relatable presence whose appearances enhanced the novel. It was a nice nod to continuity by Parker to bring in some familiar faces who could help out Spenser at a critical juncture.
As with some of the volumes that preceded it, A Catskill Eagle is not a good entry point for newcomers to the Spenser series. It’s heavily steeped in the events of previous installments and readers without that background wouldn’t get the full impact of the story. For fans who had read the whole Spenser saga up to that point, though, it’s a strong outing that provides some rewarding character moments and first rate action sequences.