Do you remember that Spenser's hobby was woodcarving? He's been working on his current project for six months. He's quite the horndog, too, bedding both a mother and her daughter. Susan Silverman wasn't on the scene yet, of course.
Then there's the drinking. Spenser's a bourbon and bitters guy in this book, but he drinks a lot of cheap bourbon right out of the bottle, too. A couple of gallons, at least.
Oh, and the text. This book is 204 pages of densely packed type. Almost no white space. Very unlike the Spenser novels we currently know and love.
Some things are pretty much the same. Spenser's a smartass and a quick man with a quip, and he's tougher than anybody around. He slaps people around a lot more than he does in the later books, though. Quirk, Belson, and Joe Broz are here, and they continue to show up throughout the series.
At one point, Spenser thinks he might be too old for the work he's doing. He's around 37 or 38. I guess he didn't know he'd still be doing it 37 years later.
Reading the book with a more critical eye than I did in 1973, I can see more wrong with it than I did then. The title manuscript, for example, is nothing more than a device to start the plot in motion. As far as I can see, the theft was incredibly stupid, and Parker resolves it in seconds about halfway through the book, having figured out a different plot, one that won't surprise anybody who's read a book from this era. The theme is one every Parker fan will recognize, that of the young woman whose parents don't get it and who needs someone to help out. Spenser's always going to be there for someone like that.
The best thing about the book, for me, is the descriptions of the college campus and the students. Parker was great at description, but he stripped most of it out of his later dialogue-driven books. Too bad. Reading this one was like time traveling for me. I spent most of my life on college campuses, and Parker's right on the money. I loved it.
And here's the thing. After reading this book, I'm not at all sure it's any better than some of the more recent ones. Maybe not even as good. Read it yourself and let me know what you think.