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They say you should send a thief to catch a thief, or send a killer to catch a killer, so why not send a mentalist to catch a mentalist? Or at least send a psychiatrist! If you are dealing with mentally ill people every day is some of their illness going to invade your own psyche? Perhaps you deal with vicious killers on a daily basis, is this going to increase your compulsion to kill? Flip it around and I would think that for an intelligent deviant the role of psychiatrist would be ideal - you get access to vulnerable people and can manipulate them to your own means. 'Shrink Rap' looks at one such psychiatrist who has been taking advantage of his female patients - that is until he meets his match!
Sunny Randall the Private Eye extraordinaire is looking for a job. When some body guarding duty comes along it's not something she would usually go for, but beggars can't be choosers. She now finds herself on a book tour with a top female author and must chaperone her around the US. So far, so easy; that is until the ex husband turns up and appears to be a dangerously misguided psychiatrist. With author Melanie Joan Hall terrified of her ex, Sunny finds herself with a real investigation. Can Sunny prove that the Doctor is a dangerous man and get him locked up? Some undercover work will help her catch a loon, but also reveal more about herself - Sunny is about to get some counselling.
In a genre dominated by male characters it's nice to see a strong female take the lead in crime noir. Sunny Randall is without doubt a great character as you expect from the hard working Robert B Parker. Although Parker churns out the novels you know that at least you will get some decent entertainment out of the writing and this is the case here. Sunny is a delight in the way she reacts to situations, in many ways she has a traditional masculine view on life, but having female traits too means that the characters is more interesting than your typical flat foot. The best thing about her is that she is very funny, to the point where she is alongside Elvis Cole as my most amusing PI in fiction. With such a generous character at its core there is no way that 'Shrink Rap' could be awful - however, there is plenty of leeway to make it mediocre.
Unfortunately, it is the story that does exactly this. Due to Parker's high output rate it seems to me that he keeps his ideas very simple, this is not always a bad thing, but it did make this book feel lacking in scale. I never felt that Sunny was in real danger or that the bad guy was up to much. In fact, the biggest issue with the book was that the Doctor was a wet lettuce and that Sunny could have pushed him over easily. Sunny surrounds herself with dubious criminal types that could snap the Doctor in two, Parker answers this by making Sunny determined to solve the crime on her own - for no real reason that makes any sense!
This is not the last area that makes little sense in the book. One major error in judgement is Sunny's use of disguise to get close to the Doctor. I felt that it was ridiculous that no one would have noticed that she is the same person on the psychiatrist's couch as she is when body guarding. I was unable to suspend my disbelief at this point and it helped undermine the book as a whole.
One final are of misgiving is the entire psychobabble in the book. 'Shrink Rap' is a few books into the Sunny series so it makes sense that Parker would want to deepen the character and develop her for future novels. Therefore, it felt to me that the entire concept of this book was a thinly veiled way of getting Sunny to discuss the issues that have arisen in the previous books. For fans of depth and character this would be a boon, however, I am not that type of person and I felt that in many ways it went into far too much detail and slowed the book down. I did come out of the book knowing more about Sunny as a person - but do I really care?
'Shrink Rap' is a competent novel that I read quickly and enjoyed. There is no denying that Sunny is a great character and when she is on her best form I can read anything with her at the centre. However, this book suffers from Parker's usual problem of churning out quick ideas as the central story just does not hold up. Add to this the overindulgence in character development and you had a fun novel dragged into the average. Certainly worth reading for fans of the series or Parker, but everyone else should start with the first book and work their way up to this.
Author: Robert B Parker
Price: amazon uk - £5.59
play.com - £5.49