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Robert B.Parker

John Murray £17.99 hbk

Reviewed by Philip Gooden

Shrink Rap is Robert Parker's fortieth-something novel, and the third to feature blonde Boston-based PI Sunny Randall. At the start of the story Sunny is discussing custody of Rosie (a bull terrier) with ex-husband Richie. The couples' inability to make a clean break is a running feature of the book, and is paralleled in the main story. A best-selling author of bodice-rippers, Melanie Joan Hall needs an escort on her latest book tour to protect her from her creepy ex, a psychiatrist whose manipulative games still hold Melanie in thrall.

Sunny has several confrontations with this sinister shrink, and starts to suspect that there is more and worse to him than simple stalking, particularly when she discovers that his clientele is largely female and attractive. She's right of course, and in order to unmask the psychiatrist she poses as one of his patients, eventually uncovering some fairly nasty truths. She also has to face some truths about herself - traditional Freudian fare involving mothers and fathers - and enlists the help of a good shrink to guide her through her encounters with the bad one.

The narrative of Shrink Rap is on the thin side, an impression which is underlined by the bite-sized chapters and heavy dependence on quick-fire dialogue, rather as in a film/TV script. There is no doubt about the identity of the villain and the general nature of his crimes is signalled quite early on. This means that the suspense depends on seeing the villain get his come-uppance, and Parker creates a dramatic climax, with some heroine-in-peril set-pieces on the way.

There's quite a plot hurdle to surmount, in suspending disbelief that the corrupt psychiatrist wouldn¹t penetrate Sunny'sdisguise when she consults him even though they have already had a few run-ins, and some readers may feel that Sunny is so surrounded by supportive male friends that her insistence on doing it more or less alone is perverse. Still, that said, Shrink Rap is a speedy, diverting read. Rosie the bull terrier is too cute, though; if there's another outing for Sunny Randall perhaps her dog ought to go into kennels...