Paper Doll  
Series Spenser
Publisher G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date 1993
Media type hardcover
ISBN 0-399-13818-X
Preceded by Double Deuce
Followed by Walking Shadow

Cover InformationEdit

"For Joan: Music all around me"

Taken from the jacket of the hardcover edition.

Spenser tracks a mystery woman who refuses to rest in peace, in Robert B. Parker's most beguiling thriller yet.

Sam Spade. Philip Marlowe. Lew Archer. Spenser. Like his legendary predecessors, the tough and classy Boston PI has become an American institution. With Paper Doll, Robert B. Parker takes Spenser down a sinister path, where every welcome masks a warning and identity is paper thin.

Hired by Loudon Tripp, an aggrieved Boston aristocrat who believes the brutal street slaying of his wife, Olivia, to be something other than random violence, Spenser immediately senses Tripp's picture-perfect version of his family's life is false. For starters, the victim's reputation is far too saintly, while her house is as lived-in as a stage set and her troubled children don't appear the product of a happy home. Spenser plunges into a world of grand illusion, peopled by cardboard cutouts, including: a distinguished public servant with plenty to hide; a wealthy executive whose checks bounce; a sleepy southern town seething with scandal; and the ambiguous Olivia herself.

Consummately mysterious and smokily sensual, Paper Doll is Parker and Spenser at their compelling best.

Recurring CharactersEdit

  • This is the first time we meet Detective Lee Farrell, of the Boston P.D. He's the detective who has been assigned to the Olivia Nelson case, and he's also in the middle of some personal problems, since his lover is dying of AIDS. He's very defensive about his sexual preferences at first, and starts off very brusque and hostile towards Spenser, but grows to like him after he realizes Spenser isn't bothered by the fact that he's gay, and expresses sympathy and support for Brian, his lover. All in all, Lee's a decent guy, and we'll see him again. Interestingly, Bill Tobin wrote in to tell me that there is a Lee Farrell mentioned as a lawyer in ch. 40 of Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler. Since Dr. Parker did his PHD thesis on Hammett and Chandler I doubt if that is a coincidence.
  • Susan is her usual supportive self, and offers some insight into the more psychiatric aspects of the case (funny how so many of the cases have some sort of psychiatric bent at one point or another...).
  • Hawk pops up for some light Susan guard duty when Spenser has to leave town a couple of times.
  • Vinnie Morris is mentioned, but we never actually see him (don't worry, we'll see him soon).
  • Belson does some work on the police end of the case, working with Lee on occasion to track down some names and financial records.
  • Marty Quirk. You were wondering when I was going to get to him, weren't you? Well, Marty has only a peripheral role for most of the book, but towards the beginning he gets Spenser out of a rather serious jam down in Alton, South Carolina, to the point of putting his own ass on the line to do it. More on him later; this definitely requires deeper discussion.
  • Henry Cimoli pops up when Spenser and Hawk are working out. Same old Henry.
  • Wayne Cosgrove, the Globe reporter, gives Spenser some information on Senator Stratton, when the good senator's name pops up in the course of the case.
  • Paul Giacomin (cf. Early Autumn) is mentioned, in a phone call to Susan. More on him later.

Unanswered QuestionsEdit

  • Presumably, Spenser is doing his best to keep Jefferson out of this, but how do they manage to pin the murder on Stratton's gang? I suppose they could blame it on the two schmoes working for Mal Chapin who rousted Spenser down in Alton, but they might be able to account for themselves at the time of "Olivia"'s murder. And Stratton is certainly going to deny it, although he's in enough hot water as it is. I suppose it may just end up going unsolved, and with the cops getting Stratton put away for theft and other wonderful things, they might be happy enough.

Literary References, or "The Annotated Gumshoe"Edit

Significance of the title: Thanks to Arthur Martin for sending the following: "I found it curious that no one commented on the title. I find a certain relation to the old Mills Brothers song--"I'm gonna buy a paper doll/That I can call my own,/A doll that other fellows/Cannot steal." Surely, his aging client's concept of his perfect wife is rather like a paper doll to replace the very real image of a cheating wife." Excellent catch. Written by Written by Johnny S. Black in 1915, the best know version was by the Mills Brothers recorded in 1942. See Lyrics

Chapter 1:

  • "I am trustworthy, loyal, and helpful. But I struggle with obedient." - Ahh yes, the Boy Scout Law. Having been a Boy Scout at one point in my turbulent youth, here it is in its entirety: "A Boy Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent." Thank you, thank you. No applause please, just throw money...
  • "They had no way of judging a man except as he handled an axe." - Another reference to one of Spenser's favorites, Two Tramps in Mud Time by Robert Frost. See Poetry "Men of the wood and lumberjacks, / they judged me by the appropriate tool. / Except as a fellow handled an axe / they had no way of knowing a fool."
  • "[Whoso] would be a man must be a non-conformist" - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, First Series [1841], Self-Reliance. I'll bet Spenser's read that one more than a few times.

Chapter 2:

  • "Never is heard a discouraging word." - See Oft Quoted
  • Cherchez la hubby - No doubt a play on Cherchez la femme. See Oft Quoted.

Chapter 4:

  • "...and the rest was silence." - Spenser is considering the death of Olivia Nelson. It's from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act V, scene 2. Hamlet's last words as he lay dying were "the rest is silence." I completely missed this one. Lisa Shea noted it on her web site (see Links) and I had to call up the search engines to track it down. Thanks, Lisa.
  • "Gene Hermanski." - Outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He played in both the 1947 and 1949 World Series' against the New York Yankees. Spenser thinks he looks like Gene when wearing his Dodgers cap, but you know his sense of humor.

    Gene Hermanski during his time on the Brooklyn Dodgers.

  • "There was a big desk with an Apple word processor on one corner." - Hisao Tomihari pointed this one out and it reflects the author. RBP was born in 1932, Spenser in 1936 (see The Aging Gumshoe) and to both of them a home computer is not much more than a glorified typewriter and good for very little else. Parker has said in several interviews that he does not surf the internet, although it seems his wife does. Just in case, let me say "Hi Joan." BTW in Paper Doll he notices an Apple word processor. At least he's not using two pieces of paper with a carbon in between.

Chapter 8:

  • "A novel by P.D. James." - Thanks to George Waller for finding the following on Wikipedia about the author Ann Summers is reading: "Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park OBE (born 3 August 1920) is an English writer of crime fiction and member of the House of Lords, who writes as P. D. James." It has been noted by many critics that James has upgraded and expanded the entire genre of mystery writing; and that many of her books, especially the police procedurals starring Dalgliesh, the poetry writing detective, fit the mainstream novel criteria as much as they do the detective genre. James' strengths are characterization and her ability to construct atmosphere and stories rich in detail.

Chapter 9:

  • "open-shuttered and passive. Not thinking, merely recording." - The first use of this reference. I had noted it in two later novels but Iain Campbell pointed this one out, which led to it being included in Oft Quoted
  • "E Pluribus Unum" - Latin: "From many, one" - Seen on most U.S. Coins. (Thanks, Glenn, for the translation).

Chapter 10:

  • "Fire is the heart of the house" - Frank Lloyd Wright (source unknown). See Oft Quoted
  • "There's a legal limit on the snow here." - A line from the title song of the musical Camelot. Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Loewe. See Lyrics. The songs are great but I could never really get into the play. If I may borrow a line from Playmates, it portrays King Arthur as "a bigger simp than Michael Jackson."

Chapter 11:

  • "If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve." - William Tecumseh Sherman, Message to Republican National Convention [June 5, 1884] (familiar version. The actual spoken phrase was: "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected").

Chapter 14:

  • "The light at the end of the tunnel." - Meaning the end of a bad situation was in sight. Politicians here in America loved to use this phrase in relation to our involvement in the interminable and misguided American presence in Vietnam. A popular joke at that time was "Would the last one out of the tunnel please turn out the light."
  • "I was misinformed." - From Casablanca. See Oft Quoted

Chapter 16:

  • "Semper paratus." - Latin for "always ready." It's also the title of the marching song of the United States Coast Guard, words and music by Captain Francis Saltus Van Boskerek USCG, 1927.

Chapter 17:

  • "How much crueler than an adder's sting" - Spenser is talking on the phone with Susan and asks if Pearl misses him, but the baby seems to be more interested in her new bone. It's a misquotation from King Lear, Act 1 scene 1. I've included a longer explanation on the Oft Quoted page.
  • "I have always loved the sound of her laughter. And to have caused it was worth the west side of heaven." - Philosophy from Iain Campbell: "In A Savage Place Ch. 6 Spenser refers to being banished to the plains East of Eden, as was Cain. Here, if he loses the west half of heaven, all he has left is the east part. I think he is saying that if making Susan laugh is punished by being banished from heaven, it is well worth the cost."
  • "Della Street...Perry Mason." - Perry was a lawyer who never had a guilty client, and he proved it in a series of books by Erle Stanley Gardner, a radio show from 1943-1955 and a TV show starring Raymond Burr from 1957-1974. Barbara Hale played his secretary Della Street.
  • "Politics make[s] strange bedfellows" - Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden, Fifteenth Week [1870] (this one pops up a couple of times in the story, and is rather appropriate since a U.S. Senator is somewhat pivotal to the plot).
  • "A cup of coffee, a plate of grits, some red eye gravy, and thou" - See the reference for "Ah, Wilderness" in Oft Quoted.
  • "Here's looking at you, kid" - See Oft Quoted.

Chapter 23:

  • "Mary Baker Eddy." - Founder of the Christian Science movement, she may have been good for spiritual guidance, but training for physical violence was not in her line of work.
  • "Badges, we need no stinking badges" - I explored the origin of this line in depth here: Oft Quoted

Chapter 24:

  • "It could have said Baker Street Irregulars on it, for all the clerk had a chance to read it." = The name Sherlock Holmes gave to the urchins who were his eyes and ears on the street in the novels by Arthur Conan Doyle.
  • "Is she a smart one?" - Ernest Hemingway, The Killers (not sure of the exact quote; this one was a gimme right from the text). James Fulford wrote in with the following: "In The Killers, a couple of hoods blow into town and start talking like this:
“You’re a pretty bright boy, aren’t you?”
“Sure,” said George.
“Well, you’re not,” said the other little man. “Is he, Al?”
“He’s dumb,” said Al. He turned to Nick. “What’s your name?”
“Another bright boy,” Al said. “Ain’t he a bright boy, Max?”
“The town’s full of bright boys,” Max said.
Later, we see this:
“All right,” said George.
“So he thinks it’s all right.” Max turned to Al. “He thinks it’s all right. That’s a good one.”
“Oh, he’s a thinker,” Al said. They went on eating.
“What’s the bright boy’s name down the counter?” Al asked Max.
“Hey, bright boy,” Max said to Nick. “You go around on the other side of the counter with your boy friend.”
“What’s the idea?” Nick asked.
“There isn’t any idea.”
“You better go around, bright boy,” Al said. Nick went around behind the counter.
  • "I also can whup you to a frazzle" - Bill found this line delivered by John Wayne in the 1956 movie The Searchers..

Chapter 38:

  • "Let the good times roll" - Well, other than being a song by The Cars, I'm not really sure. The Cars borrowed the title, but the original was recorded by Louis Jordan and his band the Tympany Five back in 1946. Jumpin' and jivin', and featuring Jordan's snarling sax, these guys rocked. It was written by Fleecie Moore and Sam Theard. See Lyrics

Chapter 43:

  • "Ministers are expected to speak as if death were not the final emperor." - This one eluded me for quite a while until CDennis137 asked about a similar allusion to the final emperor in School Days. I finally decided Parker is referring to "The Emperor of Ice Cream" by Wallace Stevens, where the point is made that life going on is what life is all about. See Poetry and an examination of the poem at
  • "The rain was cold and hard and without respite." - Nicholas Allen wrote with this possibility. "This might be a reference to Robert Browning's Porphyia's Lover: 'the rain set in tonight, / the sullen wind was soon awake, / it tore the elm-tops down.'"

Chapter 45:

  • "[Till] Human voices wake us, and we drown." - See Oft Quoted and Poetry (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

Chapter 46:

  • "There were ... dogs sleeping ... I think I'll let them lie." - Charles Dickens, David Copperfield [1849-50] (paraphrased, the original quote from CD was: "Let sleeping dogs lie-who wants to rouse 'em?").

Meanwhile, in the Spenser UniverseEdit

  • Where is Alton, South Carolina? I got an E-mail from James Dickert with the following information: "In the book "Paper Doll", Spenser flies down to Alton, South Carolina. Based on his description of Alton's location, as well as some of the surrounding area, there is no doubt in my mind at all that Alton is in reality my own hometown of Aiken, South Carolina. Since Aiken is mentioned in another of the Spenser novels (which one escapes me at present), I feel that at some point, Parker must have visited here."How right you are, James. The Parkers spent a year there to research a little known coffee table book called A Year at the Races. He later used that information while writing Hugger Mugger. See the whole story on that page.
  • Spenser has had some college time, in which he played football (but he never got a degree). Then came the army, then some time as a cop. Now he investigates. Nice to finally have it in a concrete order, instead of puzzling it out, bit by bit.
  • Paul has broken off the wedding with Paige. Apparently the experiences he had in Pastime were enough to make him wonder if he would enjoy marriage, especially after seeing how his parents' marriage went.
  • Spenser's all-time, all-seen baseball dream team: Sandy Koufax, Roy Campanella, Stan Musial, Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith, Mike Schmidt, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays. The only person out of position is Mays, and he can play right field, anyway. Red Barber would broadcast the game, and Red Smith would write about it.
  • Spenser's basketball dream team: Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan for the first four. The fifth one is a toughie. Maybe Wilt Chamberlain, or Bob Pettit, or perhaps Elgin Baylor, or maybe Julius Erving.
  • Spenser still vividly remembers the first woman he slept with. All we really know is that her name was Lily, and that there was a hot time in the old town that night.
  • Come to think of it, I think every full-grown red-blooded male can remember the first woman he slept with in amazing detail. I certainly can. Her name was...Oh, wait a second, this isn't fit for public consumption, and I certainly don't want to scare you all away. But I'll definitely never forget it....
  • Martin Quirk has now taken the final step in turning his relationship with Spenser a complete 180 degrees from their first meeting in The Godwulf Manuscript. By dropping everything and coming down to South Carolina himself to get Spenser out of his jam with the Senator's goons, he has shown himself to be a true friend. We also get a good long look at what kind of character Quirk really is, and I quote:
  • "There was something in Quirk's eyes. The way there was something in Hawk's. It wasn't just dangerous. It was a contemptuous certainty that if there was any reason to he'd kill you, and you had no part in the decision. Under all the tight control and the neat tailoring, and the pictures of his family on his desk, Quirk had a craziness in him that was terrifying when it peeked out. Here in the cellar of the Alton County Courthouse it not only peeked, it peered out, and steadily." I think that says it all, don't you?
  • Lee Farrell started out being very hostile towards Spenser, but through a small act of kindness on Spenser's part, Lee is able to see that Spenser isn't bothered by Lee's sexual preferences, and that he considers him just another cop, who does his job and does it well, in spite of a personal crisis. That goes a long way towards developing a good friendship. I've noticed that time and time again, Spenser inserts a little bit of compassion into things, especially by making sure to ask the names of people close to his clients or peers, like in this case, where he determines that Lee's lover's name is Brian: "Why [did you ask]?" asks Lee, "He ought to have a name," replies Spenser. It's the same way he makes sure that someone goes down for a murder, like in the case of the murder of Danny Davis in Playmates and the murder of Devona and Crystal Jefferson in Double Deuce. That's one of the things that makes him so appealing, in my humble opinion.
  • A few martinis and some whiskey for consolation, plus this story's Spenser's "Broo" list:
    • Chapter 7: Croft Ale (in a reminiscence, of sorts), at Packie's bar (now it's just Draft). Dennis Tallett <> writes: "Note: Croft Brewing Co. was a division of Narragansett until Falstaff bought up the company. Then General Brewing Co., Vancouver, WA. bought them. they own many labels including Lucky."
    • Chapter 27: Catamount Gold (yum), in Henry's office (now that's the measure of a true friend: one who will let you just walk into his office anytime, and drink his beer. Wow)

Favorite LinesEdit

Chapter 2: Who, me?

"'The way to solve it is to muddle around in it and disrupt everybody's lives and doubt everything everybody says and make a general pain in the ass of yourself.'
Quirk nodded.
'You can see why I thought of you,' he said."

Chapter 9: Those tell-tale signs always give it away

"I had a maroon silk handkerchief in my breast pocket, a fresh haircut, and a clean shave. Except maybe that my nose had been broken about six times, you couldn't tell I wasn't wealthy."

Chapter 10: Come on baby, bark like a dog for me...

"I never saw Susan without feeling a small but discernible thrill. The thrill was mixed with a feeling of gratitude that she was with me, and a feeling of pride that she was with me, and a feeling of arrogance that she was fortunate to be with me. But mostly it was just a quick pulse along the ganglia which, if it were audible, would sound a little like woof."

Chapter 11: And the big time suppliers have tactical nukes

"'Everybody got Glocks now?' I said.
'Yeah,' Farrell said. 'Department's trying to stay even with the drug dealers.'
Farrell laughed. 'Kids got Glocks,' he said. 'Fucking drug dealers have close air support.'"

Chapter 12: Country don't mean dumb...well, most of the time, at any rate

"At one end of the room was a fireplace sufficient to roast a moose, to the left of the entrance was a reception desk, and behind it was a pleasant, efficient-looking woman with silvery hair and a young face.
Her looks were deceptive. She was as efficient as a Russian farm collective, although probably more pleasant. It was twenty minutes to register, and ten more to find a room key. By the time she had found it I had folded my arms on the counter and put my head down on them.
'Please, sir,' she said. 'I'm doing my best.'
'Isn't that discouraging,' I said."

Chapter 16: Check for knuckles on the steering wheel

"There was a ten-wheeler in the right-hand lane, and a white Cadillac in the left lane, traveling at the same speed as the tractor. They stayed in tandem, at about forty miles an hour. We were stuck behind them. We chased along at that rate for maybe five minutes. The Buick kept honking its horn, but the Cadillac never budged. There was no sign, in the Caddy, of the driver's head above the front seat. This is not usually a good omen."

Chapter 24: So there

"'We going to follow them?'
'And they spot us?'
'They won't spot us,' Quirk said. 'I'm a professional policeman.'
'Sure,' I said.
Quirk grinned.
'And if they do,' he said, 'fuck 'em.'"

Chapter 27: I suppose admiring the films of Stepin Fetchit won't work either?

"'I was you,' Hawk said, 'and I had to go back down to South Carolina, I'd talk to some of our black brothers and sisters. They work in the houses of a lotta white folks, see things, hear things, 'cause the white folks think they don't count.'
'If they'll talk to me,' I said.
'Just tell them you a white liberal from Boston. They be grateful for the chance,' Hawk said.
'And, also, I'm a great Michael Jackson fan,' I said.
Hawk looked at me for a long time.
He said, 'Best keep that to yourself.'"

Chapter 28: But usually not in quite those words

"'Ever thought about relocating?' he said.
'It's often suggested to me,' I said."

Chapter 28: Quod erat demonstrandum

"'Hey, this is off the record.'
'What record?' I said. 'You think this is an interview? I'm a detective. You could have killed her.'
'You or your staff,' I said.
'Don't be absurd,' Stratton said. 'I'm a United States Senator.'
'I rest my case,' I said."

Chapter 29: Something he could feel a little more proud of

"Tripp stared at me some more. Then he got up suddenly, and walked to the window of his office, and looked down at the street. He didn't speak. I looked at his back for a while. Maybe I should investigate other career opportunities. Selling aluminum siding, say. Or being a television preacher. Or child molesting. Or running for public office."

Chapter 31: Primal instincts

"When we opened the door, Pearl dashed at is, and jumped up, and tore Susan's hose, and lapped our faces, and ran to the couch and got a pillow and shook it violently until it was dead, and came back to show us.
'Cute,' Susan said."

Chapter 42: Lewd and lascivious behavior in the presence of a minor?

"'In front of the baby,' Susan said. Her voice had that quality it always had after lovemaking. As if she were on her way back from somewhere far that she'd been.
'Maybe she showed a little class,' I said, 'and looked away.'
'I seem to recall her barking at a very critical juncture.'
'For heaven's sake,' I said. 'I thought that was you.'"


  • Chapter 9: A chicken sandwich at the Harvard Club.
  • Chapter 10: Dinner at his place. Salmon roe with toast and Creme Fraiche, Buffalo tenderloin marinated in red wine and garlic, Fiddlehead ferns, Corn pudding, Red potatoes cooked with bay leaf.
  • Chapter 18: Grits, toast and coffee at the track kitchen.
  • Chapter 28: Chicken sandwich at Grill 23.
  • Chapter 31: Risotto with crabmeat and pistachio pesto at Michela's in Cambridge.
  • Chapter 36: Blackberry pie and cheddar cheese for breakfast at the Orchards.
  • Chapter 42: Polenta, chicken breasts pounded flat and coated with cornbread crumbs. Sour cherry pie for dessert.


  • Chapter 7: Draft beer at Packie's with Lee Farrell.
  • Chapter 10: Iron Horse champagne before dinner at his place.
  • Chapter 17: Scotch and soda in his hotel room.
  • Chapter 26: Glenfiddich single malt scotch from the office bottle with Lee Farrell.
  • Chapter 27: Catamount Gold with Hawk in Henry's office.
  • Chapter 28: Beer at Grill 23.
  • Chapter 31: The best martinis he had ever drunk at Michela's.
  • Chapter 32: A drink at the Charles Hotel, type not specified.
  • Chapter 33: More whiskey at the office with Farrell.
  • Chapter 36: Beer at the River House.
  • Chapter 39: Beer at the Hunt Grill.
  • Chapter 41: Bourbon and branch water with Jefferson at Jack Nelson's house.
  • Chapter 43: Alsatian wine with their meal at his place.


  • Just a small one, and probably a coincidence, at that, but the street on which "Dr" Mildred Cockburn works is Hilliard Street, in Cambridge. Also, the name of Susan's psychiatrist in A Catskill Eagle is Dr. Hilliard. (Yes, I like coincidences and have fun with them, and sometimes these weekends can get pretty boring...don't blame me, blame my warped mind).
  • Show me the money: Since the only check he collected bounced, the bank fees put him even further into the red.

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