Crimson Joy  
Series Spenser
Publisher Delacorte Press
Publication date 1988
Media type hardcover
ISBN 0-385-29651-7
Preceded by Pale Kings and Princes
Followed by Playmates

Cover InformationEdit

"For all of us"

Taken from the jacket flap of the hardcover edition

"Robert B. Parker's private eye, Spenser, is back on the turf he knows best, a Boston of sleaze and surprises, dangerous days and deadly nights. A serial killer is in the loose in Beantown and the cops can't catch him. Called the "Red Rose Killer" because he leaves a long-stemmed red rose on each woman he slays, he's paralyzing every female who has to walk the streets after dark.

But once Spenser joins the case, the murderer's trail turns toward home when a rose is left for Spenser's own Susan Silverman. It's either a threat or a warning, and Spenser in joined by the steel-fisted Hawk to keep Susan safe. Now Spenser's playing against time while he tracks the Red Rose Killer from Boston's "combat zone" to the suburbs...and finally lays a daring trap for a lady killer whose calling card is as crimson as his victim's blood.

Crimson Joy is both a fast-paced ride into a city's harsh underworld and a terrifying journey into the black alleys of a killer's twisted soul and the dark secret regions of a diabolical heart."

Taken from the back cover of the paperback edition

"Spenser is back on his home turf: a Boston of sleaze and surprises, dangerous days and deadly nights. A serial killer is on the loose in Beantown and the cops can't catch him. Called the "Red Rose Killer" because he leaves a long-stemmed red rose on each woman he slays, he's terrifying every female who has to go out after dark. But once Spenser joins the chase, the murderer's trail turns toward home when a rose is left for Spenser's own Susan Silverman."

Recurring CharactersEdit

  • Lt. Quirk enlists Spenser's help in catching Red Rose.
  • Where there's Quirk, there's Belson. It's a cop thing.
  • Spenser enlists Hawk's aid for backup and guard duty when they discover the identity of Red Rose.
  • Tony Marcus (cf. Ceremony) takes an interest in the case, since one of the victims was one of his hookers.
  • Henry Cimoli puts in an appearance when Spenser works out at the Harbor Health Club. The place is definitely getting more upscale.
  • Not exactly an appearance, but Spenser gets a note from Rita Fiore. Come up and see me sometime...
  • Spenser gets a call from Wayne Cosgrove at the Globe, fishing for information on the case. Of course Spenser doesn't give him any.

Literary References, or "The Annotated Gumshoe"Edit

Significance of the title: Glenn Everett writes: "William Blake, The Sick Rose:

'O Rose, thou art sick./The invisible worm/That flies in the night/In the howling storm/Has found out thy bed/Of crimson joy,/And his dark secret love/ Does thy life destroy.'" Yours Truly writes: The above poem has relevance to the story in several different ways:
Rose as a reference to the killer's mother's first name, and the rose he leaves with his victims. The killer's love/hate relationship with his mother and what she did to him to make him into the killer: "his dark secret love does thy life destroy" - particularly his victims' lives. Crimson, of course, is a shade of red, the color of roses, hearts, and--of course--blood. The fact that there is joy in it tells us that the killer has an overwhelming need to do his dirty work. No doubt there are other meanings, but this was what I came up with.

Chapter 2:

  • "Takes a tough man to make a tender chicken" - Yes, that was in here too.
  • "Ah, sweet bird of youth." - See Oft Quoted.

Chapter 5:

  • "The fucking odd couple." - Iain Campbell points out that, minus a certain word, Tony was referring to a very successful franchise started by playwright Neil Simon. The Odd Couple opened on Broadway in 1965 starring Walter Matthau and Art Carney, was made into a 1968 movie with Matthau and Jack Lemmon, and led to a TV series with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall that ran from 1970 to 1983. A variation in 1990 with black actors Desmond Wilson and Ron Glass called The New Odd Couple and a cartoon show with a sloppy dog and neat cat called The Oddball Couple (1975-1977) are probably best forgotten.

Chapter 6:

  • "A mystery wrapped in an enigma." - See A Catskill Eagle.
  • "As the sweet bird of youth began to flutter." - A very nice line. Parker is noting the Tennessee Williams title above but as Ian Campbell points out he is really referencing The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Quatrain 7: "Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring Your Winter garment of Repentance fling: The Bird of Time has but a little way To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing. "
  • "Gelsey Kirkland" - Rated one of the Top Ten Dancers of the twentieth century by Dance Magazine. Tied for 8th place with Isadora Duncan. Has been called "one of the greatest American ballerinas. The best picture I've found is from her 1976 performance with Ivan Nagy in Romeo and Juliet.

Chapter 7:

  • "Orotund Vowel...Elocution teacher." - Orotund means either: (of voice, utterance) full and ringing clear or (of style, delivery) bombastic, pompous.

Chapter 12:

  • "I drive a Chevy, too." "The heartbeat of America" - The second reference to an ad in this book. Has Product Placement gone too far? Dennis Tallet writes to add: "'The heartbeat of America' was the advertising slogan that kicked off Chevy's campaign in 1986."

Chapter 13:

  • "Common Ground." - Hawk is reading the 1986 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by J. Anthony Lucas about racial relations and tensions in Boston during the sixties and seventies, leading to the infamous troubles over forced bussing.

Chapter 14:

  • "You go to my a sip of sparkling Burgundy brew." - A line from You Go To My Head by Haven (Dizzy) Gillespie and J. Fred Coots, 1938. See Lyrics

Chapter 20:

  • "Kerry Drake." - A comic strip detective created by Alfred Andriola. It ran 1943-49, 1951, and 1965-66.
  • "I am truth's servant." - This one sat on the Unknown page for a few years until Iain Campbell came up with the following: (tantalizing, eh? Like Fermat's Last Theorem, the answer was never included.)

Chapter 21:

  • "E Pluribus Unum" - yeah, that coin thing again.

Chapter 22:

  • "Arthur Daley." - Spenser lifted the name of a real life sportswriter while calling Swampscott High School.

Chapter 24:

  • "Wouldn't it be pretty" - See Oft Quoted.
  • "Laius to your Jocasta.?" - Laius was the king (and father) who Oedipus killed. Jacosta was his wife (and Oedipus's mother.)

Chapter 27:

  • "You are in my life like the music at the edge of silence." - Not sure on this one. Even Spenser mentions that he "read it somewhere." I'll do some digging and see what I can come up with. I had no more luck than Mike did, but Dennis Tallett writes: "(This) sounds very much like Raymond Chandler writing as a non-mystery writer and knowing Robert Parker is a follower, here is what I think he is parodying: 'She was the music heard faintly at the edge of sound.' Part of a letter written by Chandler about his wife who had passed away in December, 1954. The letter was to the editor of the London Sunday Times and is found on page 32 in 'Raymond Chandler Speaking' edited by Gardner and Walker.'"
I found it so moving that I have included a longer excerpt here:
The measure of the love he felt for her can be gauged from these words: "For 30 years, 10 months and four days, she was the light of my life, my whole ambition. Anything I did was just the fire for her to warm her hands at. That is all there is to say. She was the music heard faintly on the edge of sound."
  • "I respect you like hell" - Not confirmed, but the book says it's from a Nichols and May routine. Unfortunately I have neither in my Bartlett's. Denis Tallett writes: "If this is Nichols and May, it comes from their sketch about two teenagers on their first date. He wants to go beyond necking as his father only lets him borrow the car once a week but she believes he wouldn't respect her. He replies, "I would respect you like crazy". It can be seen on the video or their work between 1957-1962 in "Take 2". Shown on PBS 1996 Pledge drive."

Chapter 30:

  • "The light of the midday sun." - I'll let Iain Campbell tell this one in his own words: "This feels like a true Spenserism, where he takes two expressions and creates his own. 'The light of day' plus 'out in the midday sun,' from the Noel Coward song about Mad Dogs and Englishmen." See Lyrics

Chapter 31:

  • "The short happy life of Gordon Felton." - A play on The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
  • "You got a warrant?" - George Plimpton made a career for himself by living out our fantasies. He first made his mark with the book "Paper Lion," recounting his training with the Detroit Lions and actually being involved in one play on the field. His career as a movie stuntman consisted of one line in the film Rio Bravo (see correction), a 1970 movie starring John Wayne. Wayne asked "Where's your warrant?" Plimpton replied "This here's your warrant, Mister" and pulled his gun. Wayne pulled his gun out faster and blew him away, whereupon the stunt crew pulled on their cables and slammed George back into the wall. (Correction. I typed in the wrong movie name above. Sam Farris was kind enough to send me the following: "He was actually in Rio Lobo (1970), an inferior remake that still starred John Wayne directed by Howard Hawks (his last film). I believe it was the third time the two made essentially the same picture, the second time was El Dorado (1967) with Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and James Caan. Rio Bravo (with Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, Angie Dickinson and Ricky Nelson) was made in 1959 -- I have seen it maybe 12 times and it's a classic. I wouldn't grouse about it except Rio Bravo is one of my all-time favorites and I hate to see it misrepresented. Spenser would love it.")

Chapter 32:

  • "along the verge of the restless sea." - Iain Campbell writes: "This rang a bell, and sure enough, my book of quotes refers us to Walter De La Mare, in the poem 'Never more, sailor' where he writes of the 'wind-ridden restless sea.'"
  • "Mechanical voices speaking of life's darkest side." Adele Connolly wrote in with the following: "It just smacks to me of Darth Vader! The original Star Wars series was released between 1977 and 1983 or so; Crimson Joy was published in 1988."
  • "Big wheel keep on turning / Proud Mary keep on burning" - Credence Clearwater Revival, Proud Mary. See Lyrics
  • "Hello, Hare." - Iain notes that this probably refers to the legend of the Tortoise and the Hare by Aesop. "Slow and steady wins the race," eh?

Chapter 33:

  • "The race goes not always to the swift" - Ecclesiastes 9:11 (paraphrased from "...that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong..."). But as Damon Runyon commented: "It may be that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong--but that is the way to bet." BTW: the above quotation is from Runyon's 1937 book "More Than Somewhat." In my internet research I found it attributed to Grantland Rice, Mark Twain, Ring Lardner, Robert A. Heinlein, Rudyard Kipling, and even odds-maker Nick the Greek. Always remember: trust but verify ;)
  • "After last year, I think they're [the Red Sox] too clumsy" - This book was written in 1987 so "last year" was 1986. Bruce Knight writes: "It's been fourteen years and there are people out there who may not get the reference to the Red Sox's clumsiness. Is it worth mentioning the 1986 World Series, when the Sox were one strike away from the championship, they'd already named Bruce Hurst the Series MVP, and then Mookie Wilson jumped and then Bill Buckner muffed?"
It's painful, but here goes: Game 6, bottom of the tenth, the Sox are up by one run, the Mets have two outs and Mookie Wilson at bat has two strikes. Runners on second and third. The curse that has been on the Boston team since 1918 is about to end. Then Wilson jumps away from a pitch, blocking the catcher's view and the ball dribbles away to the backstop. Kevin Mitchell scores from third on the wild pitch, tie game. Another pitch, and Wilson hits a little grounder along the first base line. Which goes right between the legs of Bill Buckner, a man whose name is now as famous as Dr. Samuel Mudd, Capt. Charles Boycott, and Col. Charles Lynch. That's the short version; a full account would take several more pages.

Favorite LinesEdit

Chapter 1: ...somewhere in the distance, a dog barked

"Quirk nodded. I smiled at him. Just a big friendly puppy. Quirk looked at me without saying anything. Belson's cigar smelled like someone was cooking a rat."

Chapter 1: Let us hope Barbara uses this power only for the forces of good...

"'I may use Hawk,' I said.
Quirk nearly smiled for a moment. 'Think he can keep from blabbing to the press?' he said.
'As long as Barbara Walters doesn't show up,' I said. 'Hawk gets light-headed whenever he sees her.'
'I guess we'll have to chance it,' Quirk said."

Chapter 2: So that's how he does it

"'How do you afford caviar?' Susan said.
'Low overhead,' I said. 'I weave my own blackjacks.'"

Chapter 4: Communication breakdown

"On Wednesday morning there was a profile of me in the Globe. PRIVATE EYE ON RED ROSE CASE, it said. It mentioned that I'd been involved in a number of cases, that I'd had a longtime relationship with Susan Silverman, a Cambridge psychologist, and that I had once been a boxer. It neglected to mention that when I smiled, my cheeks dimpled sweetly. The press never gets it right.
Wayne Cosgrove called to see if there was anything I knew that I hadn't told the beat man at the news conference. I said no. He said would I lie to him. I said yes. And we hung up."

Chapter 4: "Siggy" would have been proud

"'She have any thoughts about what it would be?' Quirk said.
'I asked her that,' I said. 'She gave me the shrink look and said "Zee muzzer, vee often look to zee muzzer."'
'Her too,' Quirk said. 'So we should be looking for a cop had trouble with his mom.'
'Maybe,' I said.
'On a force that's eighty percent Irish,' Quirk said.
'Okay,' I said, 'Let's take another approach.'"

Chapter 6: The joy of working out

"The woman said, 'I don't want to do all of these machines today.'
Janie said, 'It'll be fun once you get started, you'll see.' She glanced at Henry. There was no kindness in her glance. I was on the lat machine, and as Henry and Janie exchanged their glances I turned around and did a handstand on the seat of the lat pull down machine, so that I was effectively on it upside down.
'Excuse me, Mr. Cimoli,' I said. 'Am I doing this right?'
Henry turned and stared at me for a moment with no change of expression.
'Why, yes, sir,' Henry said, and smiled kindly. 'You're doing just fine.' He stepped nearer to me and said more softly, but just as kindly, 'Now, why don't you pull the weight down with your dick,' and moved off toward the front desk."

Chapter 7: Didn't he play power forward for the Lakers?

"Tuttle looked at me. 'I will be reporting this meeting to Commissioner Pat Wilson,' he said. 'Might I know who you are?'
'Orutund Vowel,' I said. 'I'm the lieutenant's elocution teacher.'
Tuttle stared at me. He knew he was being kidded but he didn't know what to say. Finally he turned and led them out.
'Orutund Vowel?' Quirk said.
I shrugged.
'You're a strange bastard,' he said."

Chapter 11: The joys of racial stereotypes

"Susan's phone rang. It was separate from the office phone. I picked it up and said, 'Hello.'
Hawk's voice said, 'Susan?'
I said, 'Nobody likes a minority smart-ass.'
'True,' Hawk said. 'What do you need?'
I told him about the rose intruder.
Hawk said, 'And he punched you in the head and you chased him and he got away? Was he a brother?'
'I don't think so,' I said.
'You let a white guy get away from you?'
'What do you want from me,' I said. 'I'm a white guy too.'
'Yeah, you so funky sometimes I forget. I'll come over in case we have to chase him again.'"

Chapter 12: Didn't Doc Holiday used to say that?

"She picked up the gun, held it carefully in both hands, stood as I'd taught her to, cocked the gun with her right thumb, fired carefully, six shots, single action, and put all six inside the 7 circle. Then she put the thirty-eight back down on the shooter's table and waited while Costa went down to the target.
'You forgot to yell "Freeze, dirt bag"', I said.
'Couldn't I say something else, like "It's all right, I'm a doctor"?' she said.
I shook my head in disgust. 'Don't you watch television?'"

Chapter 15: Yes, it would go nicely with his lavender suspenders

"Belson glanced around the apartment with its careful clutter of objets d'art, lace, silk, crystal, and velvet. There was a huge crimson fan spread on one wall of the den.

'It's you,' Belson said to me.
'Yeah,' I said. 'I'm looking to buy a paisley gun.'"

Chapter 16: The price of heresy

"Quirk nodded. 'I can't use any of my people.'
'Unofficially?' I said. 'Sort of a favor?'
Quirk shook his head. 'It would cost them. I'm excommunicated, until I agree with the official version.'
'You and Galileo,' I said.
'Didn't he throw his balls off the leaning tower?' Quirk said.
'That too,' I said."

Chapter 16: Spenser's tailing tips, #4

"I've yet to find a cabbie that responds when you say 'Follow that cab.' The last guy I tried slammed on the brakes and slapped down his meter and told me to take a walk. 'I look like fucking James Bond to you?' he said."

Chapter 16: Actually, shouldn't it be called Harvard Oblate?

"People coming home from work, students going to the library, or the barroom, or the movies, a scattering of tourists coming to see the famous Harvard Square and looking vaguely puzzled when they found it."

Chapter 17: Somehow a pet name on an enforcer seems a little odd

"'No, in fact I wish to disturb one. I wish to thwart and frustrate whoever poisoned the fish. It will force him to rechannel whatever he's trying to express, and perhaps he'll rechannel it my way.'
'You shrinks are a devious bunch,' I said. 'What if he rechannels it violently?'
Susan smiled sweetly.
'Why, then you or Hawkie-poo will intervene,' she said. 'Why else are you hanging around?'
I had nothing to say to that. Neither did Hawkie-poo."

Chapter 22: The Hawk Torture(tm). Works every time

"'The hurdler has an ex-wife,' I said. Maybe I'll go talk with her.'
'Take my picture along,' Hawk said. 'Tell her she can meet me if she cooperate.'
'And if she doesn't,' I said, 'she meets you twice.'"

Chapter 25: Hawk, relationship counselor

"Hawk smiled benignly, like a proud grandparent.
'Knew you two could work it out,' he said.
'Oh, fuck you,' Susan said.
'Good point,' Hawk said."

Chapter 27: Let us take it as a given...

"'You were right you know,' Susan said.
'Probably,' I said. "About what?'"

Chapter 27: Put that ying away! You don't know where it's been!

"'And,' Susan said, 'in fact, of course, love frequently flourishes most successfully when ying meets yang.'
'Ying meets yang?'
'Never mind,' Susan said. 'And just keep your ying to yourself.'"

Chapter 32: Less filling! Tastes great!

"I felt like a beer commercial. Chasing a murderous psychopath along the verge of the restless sea. It doesn't get any better than this, Gordie. Maybe when I caught him we could exchange high fives and look at beer without drinking it."

Chapter 33: Never let the kinkiness go out of a relationship... (Optional subtitle: So now we finally learn his first name...)

"'Without endorsing the us,' I said, 'let me suggest a suitable reward for being so integrated.'
'I do not want to go to Fenway Park and watch the Red Sox do anything,' Susan said.
'I had in mind exotic sexual congress,' I said.
'With the Red Sox?'
'After last year, I think they're too clumsy,' I said. 'I was thinking that you deserve me, Foots Spenser.'
'Yes,' Susan said, 'God help me, I'm afraid that's just what I deserve.'
'So,' I said, 'shall we finish dinner, go back to your place, and make love?'
'Certainly,' Susan said.
'With or without sweater?' I said.
There was a long, silent moment while Susan looked at me, straight on. Her great dark eyes wide, her face wearing an odd expression that might have been a smile. Then she did something I've never seen her do, Something, perhaps, that no one had ever seen her do.
She blushed.'"


Chapter 2: Dinner at his apartment: Beluga caviar, Bremner crackers, lemon wedges. Grilled lemon and rosemary chicken. Brown rice with pignolias. Assorted fresh vegetables lightly steamed and dressed with Spenser's famous honey-mustard splash Blue corn bread.

Chapter 4: Quirk brings coffee and corn muffins to Spenser's office.

Chapter 5: Cajun fried squid at Legal Seafood's.

Chapter 10:Dinner at Susan's (from Rudi's in Charles Square): Chicken breast with apricot and pistachio stuffing. Salad of endive, julienne of red and green peppers, and arugula. Fresh French bread.

Chapter 12: Cherry cheesecake at the Washington Deli in Chelsea.

Chapter 14: A bagel and a santa rosa plum.

Chapter 16: A bagel with cream cheese on Mass. Ave. with Quirk.

Chapter 21: Dinner at Davio's on Newbury Street: Salad Linguini with clam sauce.

Chapter 22: Hawk brings tuna fish subs, everything but onions, and a large bag of Cape Cod potato chips for them both at Susan's.

Chapter 24: Whole-wheat bagels for breakfast at Susan's. Hawk picked them up at Fromaggio on his way over.

Chapter 27: Chicken with broccoli, carrots, onions, garlic, and tarragon at Susan's. Actually he is -ahem- interrupted in the cooking and they don't eat until the next chapter.

Chapter 33: Dinner at Suntory: Vegetable tempura, Shrimp tempura, Steamed rice


  • Chapter 2: At Spenser's apartment:
    • Champagne and a splash of Midori with the caviar.
    • Iron Horse Chardonnay with dinner.
  • Chapter 5: Sam Adams at Legal Seafood's.
  • Chapter 10: Sam Adams at Susan's.
  • Chapter 21: Chianti with dinner at Davio's.
  • Chapter 27: Laphroaig single malt Scotch at Susan's.
  • Chapter 33: House beer at Suntory.


  • Susan seems to have certain patterns to her psychotherapy. During a session, she encourages the tears about to flow by saying, "Let them come; see what comes with them." We've seen a variation on this phrase before (cf. Pale Kings and Princes). Notice that when Spenser, Quirk and Belson were tailing the suspects from Susan's office, that the killer turned out to be the first man they tailed. Just thought I'd mention that...
  • Oops: In Chapter 22 Spenser inspects the contents of Susan's refrigerator and notes two Diet Cokes. In Chapter 28 Susan wakes from her alcohol-induced sleep and begs for a Diet Coke. Spencer answers that he noticed one under the sink in the bathroom, and assumes she wants it warm. In Chapter 16 of Walking Shadow she affirms that she likes it that way, and says "I hate cold things." So what were those two cans doing there?
  • Oops2: It has been mentioned many times that Quirk keeps his pictures in a photocube on his desk. In Chapter 13 they are in separate small frames which he moves around just a little bit. It only happens in this book.
  • Oops3: Jonah Rapp noticed this one: "The scientist who first identified the red-blood-cell antibodies back in the early 20th Century named the types A, B, and C. Blood type C was later renamed to blood type O. I haven't delved deeply enough to determine when this happened, but referring to type O as type C is not something I had ever encountered in my life, and I find it interesting to see it in a book published in the late '80s. And one other related niggle is that neither Belson nor Quirk specify whether that Type-C trace was Rh-Positive or -Negative. Sloppier than we've come to expect from them, or from OFG." It was Dr. Karl Landsteiner who discovered the human blood groups he called A, B, and C in 1900, and for being so clever he won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1930. I wasn't able to track it down either but type C was changed to O one heck of a long time ago. Even though Dr. Parker was savvy enough to throw in testing for the PGM (phosphoglucomutase) enzyme, we must remember that his Doctorate is in English Literature.
  • Show me the money: Spenser, consultant thug, is not paid for this outing. Then again he's not the only one. A lot of people wind up guarding Susan for free.

Previous book: Pale Kings and Princes • Next book: Playmates

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.