Peerless shamus Spenser's 24th case (Chance, 1996, etc.) is almost his last, thanks to an assassin who's a lot more like him than he'd like to acknowledge. Cone, Oakes and Baldwin, Boston's largest law firm, doesn't like loose ends, and when Rita Fiore and Marcy Vance, the former prosecutor who put Ellis Alves away for murder and the former public defender who couldn't save him from the big house, meet in the firm's tony corridors and share doubts about the case, they end up hiring Spenser to make sure the evidence is solid. Nobody, including Alves, a career criminal with an attitude about white folks, wants to talk to Spenser, but it isn't long before he smells several rats anyway. Why didn't the upscale couple (since married) who said they saw Alves drag Pemberton College coed Melissa Henderson into his car call the police till after Melissa was dead? Why would a lowlife like Alves have dumped her body on the well-tended Pemberton campus? Why do the parents of Melissa's boyfriend, tennis hopeful Clint, deny that they ever knew Melissa? Interesting questions--interesting enough to get Spenser the obligatory string of warnings by local thugs and crooked cops and a dead-eyed killer in a gray suit. But Spenser won't lay off, even though his personal shrink Susan Richman, avid to adopt a baby, switches to reminders that Ellis Alves undoubtedly belongs in jail for something. So the Gray Man comes after Spenser with his trademark .22, short-circuiting every surprise (hey, this isn't Nicolas Freeling) except the question of how Spenser's going to recover and nail his would-be executioner and the people who hired him--and then live with himself afterwards. It's a tribute to Parker's professionalism that he takes a device as old as Sherlock Holmes--the death and rebirth of the detective--and infuses it with renewed urgency and moral weight, showing the thoroughbred form that put him and Boston on the p.i. map in the first place.