The Widening Gyre  
Series Spenser
Publisher Delacorte Press
Publication date 1983
Media type hardcover
ISBN 0-440-08740-6
Preceded by Ceremony
Followed by Valediction

Cover InformationEdit

"For Joan, David, and Daniel. The center can hold, and does."

Taken from the back cover of the paperback edition

"The adoring wife of Senate candidate Meade Alexander had a smile as sweet as candy and dotted her i's with little hearts. A blond beauty, she was the perfect mate for an ambitious politician, but she had a little problem with sex and drugs--a problem someone had managed to put on videotape.

The big boys figured a little blackmail would put her husband out of the race, until Spenser hopped aboard Alexander's bandwagon. Now only his fists and his .38 stood between the mob's musclemen and the way to Washington. But getting back the tape of the lady's X-rated indiscretion was slated to make his ride on the campaign trail a nonstop express to trouble--trouble that was deep, wide, and deadly."

Recurring CharactersEdit

  • Wayne Cosgrove, from the Boston Globe (cf. Looking for Rachel Wallace), puts in an appearance when Spenser is looking for background material on Alexander's opponent.
  • Vinnie Morris, Joe Broz's second-in-command, puts in his first appearance. We'll see him whenever we see Broz from now on.
  • Where there's Vinnie, there's Joe Broz (cf. The Godwulf Manuscript), at least for now. Joe's in it because his son, Gerry (more on him in a minute) is in the thick of the scandal with Ronni Alexander, and when he makes a mess of it, Joe has to bail him out, so to speak.
  • This is also the first time we see Gerry Broz. Currently a student at Georgetown University, Gerry will deal dope in exchange for money or sex. When Ronni Alexander drops by, Gerry sees that he has a live one and videotapes the session, and uses it to blackmail Meade Alexander.
  • Susan puts in a brief appearance in Washington, D.C. She's interning down there at the Children's Hospital National Medical Center. We see her when Spenser heads down there to look into Gerry Broz's racket.
  • Spenser blows a kiss to the dark-haired art director across the street from his office.
  • Lt. Quirk talks to Spenser a couple of times: once when Spenser is investigating Alexander's opponent, and again after Spenser gets shot in the leg while jogging. Surprisingly, we don't see Belson this time out.
  • Paul Giacomin (cf. Early Autumn) puts in his first appearance since going off to dance school. He's in college now at Sarah Lawrence, and has established his own identity. Not surprisingly, he takes after Spenser a great deal.
  • Paul also has a girlfriend, Paige Cartwright, another dancer. we only meet her briefly, but we learn that her parents are a little uptight about her dating Paul, but she's a nice kid.
  • Henry Cimoli puts in a brief appearance at the Harbor Health Club, where Spenser works out.
  • Hawk also watches Spenser's back after he's shot while jogging.

Unanswered QuestionsEdit

  • Since Alexander has almost no chance of winning the election, does that mean he's out of a congress job as well? Or does he run for re-election there after finishing out his term?
  • What does Alexander do about his wife? He never told her he knew about her, ah, indiscretions, and she doesn't seem to be making any signs of going on the wagon any time soon, so she's probably going to do it again eventually. Sooner or later the truth has got to come out. Then what?

Literary References, or "The Annotated Gumshoe"Edit

Significance of the Title: "Turning and turning in the widening gyre / the falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;" William Butler Yeats, Michael Robartes and the Dancer [1921], The Second Coming, stanza 1. See Poetry

Well, if I knew what a gyre was, I could probably understand it. But for now I think it basically means everything goes to hell when someone loses control. I don't know. This is a great poem, and was also used in Ceremony. It also shows up in Babylon 5 in one of the Season 2 episodes, for all you SF fans. Great stuff.
Bill Lambert writes: "A gyre is a spiral. The falcon (Susan) is getting farther and farther away from the center of control, the falconer (Spenser)." That makes sense to me. Thanks, Bill!

Chapter 4:

  • "On the whole I'd rather be in Philadelphia." - W. C. Fields maintained that he wanted that phrase engraved on his tombstone. Sadly, his wishes were not followed.
  • "I believe in love - Alfie." - A line from the theme song to the 1966 Michael Caine movie Alfie. Lyrics by Hal David, music by Burt Bachrach. See Lyrics

Chapter 5:

  • "The soul wears various vestments." - To me it seems to be the gist of Sartor Resartus, written in 1831 by Thomas Carlyle, but I could very easily be wrong
  • "...waiting for the wrecking ball. The fate they were born for." - Maxie Maxwell wrote in: "The fate that they were born for" is an allusion to a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Spring & Fall: to a young child," about the loss of innocence & idealism -- appropriate here because in the scene the line appears, Spenser & Paul are discussing the dissolution of his relationship with Susan." Right you are. I've had the poem on the poetry page for some time because of the first two lines but I never caught the last two. See Poetry and Oft Quoted

Chapter 6:

  • "You going to turn that into wine?" - Iain noted the reference to the wedding at Cana, Gospel according to St. John 2:1-10.
  • "We are not amused." - Iain Campbell notes that this use of the term seems to have been started by Queen Victoria when she was annoyed. "We" implies that the Monarch is so enlightened as to express the opinions of everyone in the Empire.
  • "The ways of the Lord are often dark, but never pleasant." - See Oft Quoted.

Chapter 7:

  • "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!" - William Shakespeare, King Lear [1605], Act III, Scene 2, line 1.

Chapter 8:

  • "Like a jar in Tennessee" - From Wallace Stevens' Anecdote of the Jar [1923], stanza 1: "I placed a jar in Tennessee / And round it was, upon a hill. / It made that slovenly wilderness / Surround that hill." (Most likely a reference to Spenser's observation that things tend to coalesce around Susan). See Poetry.

Chapter 10:

  • "Let us be true to one another, dear." - RBP put it in italics, so it's a quote. Damned if I could find a trace of it. (The above is what I originally said. Two opinions arrived on the same day advocating a source I rejected. Rindy writes: "the reference is from Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach." Susan Rushton agrees. "..lifted from the last stanza of 'Dover Beach' by Matthew Arnold." She also supplied the relevant text:)
"Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."
Okay, I admit the italics led me astray. I read and discarded those lines as not being exactly right. I should have known better, seeing as how Spenser quotes it again later in the chapter (below).
  • "Someone, maybe Adlai Stevenson, had said that wanting to be elected disqualifies you for the job." - David Broder, the Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist once said "Anybody who wants the presidency so much that he'll spend two years organizing and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office." I found no trace of either Adlai E. (vice president during Grover Cleveland's second term) or his grandson (presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956, U.N. Ambassador 1960-1965) expressing that view, and given the many biographies I have read it seems doubtful either of them would. Parker seems to have fallen for an Urban Legend. I finally tracked it down to Gore Vidal. His biting satire and keen eye for hypocrisy in government made him one of the most brilliant commentators on the American condition in the latter half of this century. "Any American who is prepared to run for President should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so."
  • "The sea of faith is at its ebb, babe." - Another reference to Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach [1867], stanza 3: "The sea of faith, / Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore / ...But now I only hear / It's melancholy, long, withdrawing roar"

Chapter 11:

  • "The art of compromise - maybe I was political after all." - Iain Campbell notes that it is a variation of "politics is the art of compromise," a very common expression, but neither of us have been able to track its origin.

Chapter 13:

  • "E=mc2" - Albert Einstein - the Theory of Relativity. The original statement as given by Einstein in Ist die Tragheit eines Korpers von Seinem Energieghalt Abhangig? [1905]: "If a body gives off the energy L in the form of radiation, its mass diminishes by L/c2." Of course that has nothing to do with the fire, which is simply a chemical reaction, but he's using it as a metaphor about change.
  • "To strive, to seek, and not to yield." - paraphrasing a line from Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson. "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

"Over the hills and through the woods to grandmother's house we go." - It looks to me like a concatenation of two songs, Over the River and Through the Woods (see Lyrics) with Over the Hills and Far Away (see Lyrics). But to quote the immortal bard Dennis Miller "Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong."

  • "Margaret, are you grieving, over Goldengrove unleaving?" - Gerald Manley Hopkins, Poems [1918], No. 55, Spring and Fall: To a Young Child, line 1. See Poetry.
  • "Paid a high price for living too long with a single dream" - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby [1925].
  • Dennis Tallett expands the entry as follows: "If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. Chap. 8, 4th paragraph from the end."

Chapter 14:

  • "There was a little coffee left. I drank half of it. If I always drank just half of the remainder, it would never run out." - An example of Xeno's Paradox. I could give you the mathematical reasoning which shatters it, but that is better left as an exercise for the student. Instead I will use this lovely paraphrase I found at "Xeno was some Greek dude who discovered this mathematical problem: If you travelling from point A to point B, you necessarily must travel half of the distance to point B before travelling all of the distance. Now from that point you must again travel half of the remaining distance. If you continue to do so (travel half of the distance) you will never reach point B."
  • "Like a tree falling soundlessly in the forest." - See Oft Quoted
  • "Freedom just another word for nothing left to lose" - Charles Littleton writes: "Me and Bobby Magee, Kris Kristopherson, made famous by Janis Joplin." See Lyrics
  • "Whore of Babylon" - Dennis Tallett points out that this refers to Babylon the great, the mother of whores and every obscenity on earth. Revelations 17: 1-5.

Chapter 15:

  • "Night Train." - The song Ronni is humming was AKA Happy-Go-Lucky Local, written by Forrest/Washington/Simpkins and originally recorded by the Duke Ellington Orchestra, circa 1947.
  • "The last garter belt I could remember was the year Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown." - That would be 1956. In baseball the Triple Crown is made up of a league's batting, home run, and RBI championships for a single season. With today's specialized hitters it has become a thing of the past, last won by Carl Yastrzemski of the blessed Boston Red Sox in 1967. BTW only Roger Hornsby of St. Louis (1922,1925) and Ted Williams of the beloved Boston Red Sox (1942,1947) have ever won it twice.
  • (the tape stopped) "in medias res." - Latin: "in the middle of things." For more fascinating writing terms pay a visit to this site. (Thank you Iain Campbell for pointing out that I had originally mistyped the above as "media." Since my own knowledge of Latin is somewhat hazy {read: nonexistant}I need all the help I can get.)
  • "Salome." - To paraphrase the Gospel of St. Mark, King Herod married his sister-in-law Herodias and jailed John the Baptist, who had denounced it as being unlawful. Herod didn't want to kill the holy man, but his wife did, so she had her daughter Salome dance at his birthday party. The king was so moved that he told her she could ask for anything, even up to half his kingdom as a reward, and at her mother's suggestion asked for John's head on a platter. (Several jokes along the lines of "he didn't even get a lap dance" or "I'd have thought tucking a fiver into her G-string would have been enough" came to mind, but as this is holy scripture I thought better of the idea.)

Chapter 16:

  • "Ronni Alexander trying to be Yvonne De Carlo." - Taking note of the above, Yvonne starred in the 1945 movie Salome, Where She Danced.
  • "She must be very desperate." "Most people are" - A tip of the hat to Walden or Life in the Woods (1854) by Henry David Thoreau. "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

Chapter 17:

  • "The more I thought about it, the more I didn't have one." - Hisao Tomihari points out that this may be a third reference to the line from Winnie the Pooh. See Oft Quoted

Chapter 18:

  • "Time for visions and revisions." - See Poetry ( The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)
    Magazine - Sport Apr 1980n
  • "one of those high-crowned ten-gallon things with a big feather in the band, like Willie Stargell wears." - Help me out here, people. The only pictures I've found show a great baseball player in a Pittsburgh Pirates cap. What am I missing?
(Search engines of 2016 are better than they were in 2006... Stargell was on the cover of the April 1980 Sport Magazine wearing a hat like that.)

Chapter 19:

  • "Had the weather been better I'd have worn white flannel trousers and walked upon the beach." - A tribute to yet another line from Prufrock. See above link.

Chapter 23:

  • "...restless as a willow in a windstorm." - A line from It Might as Well Be Spring by Rogers and Hammerstein. See Lyrics
  • "My strength as the strength of ten." - See Oft Quoted and Poetry (Sir Galahad)

Chapter 24:

  • "Stay away from college boys, when you're on a spree/ take good care of yourself you belong to me." - In case you missed the publication notes, this is from the song Button Up Your Overcoat, Copyright 1928 by DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson, Inc. Copyright Renewed, Assigned to Chappel & Co., Inc. See Lyrics

Chapter 25:

  • "Readiness is all" - See Oft Quoted.
  • "Man's afraid to die's afraid to live" - The earliest reference I came across was Marcus Aurelius (121-180AD): "It is not death a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live." The above is probably a movie line, but I couldn't find it.

Chapter 26:

  • "The early bird catches the worm" - Proverb
  • "Still waters run deep." - It's a very old saying, meaning that there can be much hidden beneath a placid surface. Dennis Tallett writes "It's a 14th century proverb and is similar to 'Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep,' Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part II, Act 3, scene 1, line 53."

Chapter 27:

  • "As if we stepped to the tune of different drummers" - Hisao Tomihari found this one. See Oft Quoted

Chapter 28:

  • "I was hoping this once he'd take the road less traveled." - Paraphrased from The Road Less Traveled by Robert Frost. See Poetry
  • "...prepare for what the enemy can do, not what he might" - See Oft Quoted.
  • "The new religion calls all in doubt." - A paraphrase from An Anatomy of the World: The First Anniversary by John Donne, 1611. "A new philosophy calls all in doubt." Remember that back then "philosophy" referred to ones entire view of life, the universe, and everything. (Thank you Douglas Adams for summing it up that way. The answer is, of course, 42.)
  • "You pay a very high price, as I said last time" - see chapter 13 above.
  • "Machismo's captive" - it dances at the edge of my mind. What title is he paraphrasing?
  • " love pure and chaste from afar" - The song is The Impossible Dream, the musical is Man of La Mancha. Words by Joe Darion, music by Mitch Leigh. See Lyrics
  • "I am what I am." - Or as that existential philosopher Popeye the Sailor phrased it "I yam what I yam."

Chapter 31:

Chapter 37:

  • "The Road Less Traveled." - Susan is reading the book by Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck (1978). In the era of "I'm OK, You're OK" Peck was courageous enough to suggest that "life is difficult" and personal growth is a "complex, arduous and lifelong task." Parker pretty much summed up the same thing in his novels, especially the story arc starting with this book and ending in A Catskill Eagle.

Meanwhile, in the Spenser UniverseEdit

  • Spenser seems to be drinking more and more whiskey these days. Perhaps caused by Susan's absence?
  • He's also trying to cut back on coffee, although Vinnie Morris tells him not to bother.
  • There's a Hamburger Hamlet in D.C, which Spenser loves due to their large beer schooners.
  • At present, Hawk stands 6'2", weighs 205 and is a size 29" waist
  • Chalk up another bullet wound for Spenser, he gets shot in the thigh (but it's definitely the thigh this time, not the "upper thigh") while jogging along the esplanade. He gave better than he got, though. Both shooters are dead, and I believe he ran over one of them in an effort to drive their car to the hospital (didn't make it, blacked out and slammed the car into the concrete barrier. Good thing it wasn't his). He ran over Ed, and it was the iron fence he hit.
  • Spenser's "Broo List":
    • Chapter 8: Budweiser, at the Ritz Bar (Spenser wanted Rolling Rock, "but even **the Ritz Bar must disappoint, occasionally.")
    • Chapter 13: Rolling Rock Extra Pale, at Spenser's apartment (ha!).
    • Chapter 19: Molson, at the Rive Gauche.
  • Spenser is reading Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison. Also a review of the Gail Conrad Dance Company by Arlene Croce in the New Yorker to learn more about dance.

Favorite LinesEdit

Chapter 1: "Political Cartoons"

'Meade's running for the senate, or don't you read the papers?'
'Only the funny stuff,' I said. 'Tank McNamara, and the city council proceedings.'"

Chapter 2: Jack of all trades

'Do you want me to demonstrate anything?' I said to Alexander. 'Shoot the wings off a fly? Wrestle a bear? I'm really very skillful for an unmarried agnostic.'

Chapter 2: Good, yet modest

'You have any suggestions, make them. I'm in charge but humble. No need to salute when you see me.'
Fraser said, 'Mind if we snicker every once in a while behind your back?'
'Hell, no,' I said. 'Everybody else does.'

Chapter 3: Useful if captured by the enemy, but otherwise...

"The only danger to him I could spot were the pastries. I tried one and they tasted like something you'd swallow to avoid torture."

Chapter 6: Yes, but it was fun anyway...

"'Well, first, what did you learn about the two men that molested my young campaign workers?'
'I learned they had reached their limits with the kids,' I said. 'With me they were in over their heads.'
'I heard you had a fight with them.'
'Fight is too strong a word. I breathed heavily on them and they fell down.'"

Chapter 8: Complaints? Dial 1-800-GO-2-HELL

"'This a social call,' Cosgrove said, 'or are you undercover for the Columbia Journalism Review?'
'No, I came in to lodge a complaint about the Globe's white-collar liberal stance and they directed me to you.'
Cosgrove nodded. 'Yes,' he said. 'I handle those complaints.'
'Well, what have you to say?'
'Fuck you.'
'Gee,' I said, 'words must be your business.'"

Chapter 8: No comment

"'No fucking comment? You work a week for a politician and you're walking around saying no fucking comment?'
'You're right,' I said. 'It's embarrassing. Ask me again.'
'You investigating Browne for Alexander?'
'I don't want to answer that question,' I said, 'and if you ask me again, I'll beat your teeth in.'
Cosgrove nodded. 'Better,' he said."

Chapter 10: Keep on thinking those happy thoughts

"Maybe being a good man didn't amount to anything anyway. It didn't seem to get you much. You ended up in the same place as the bad men. Sometimes with a cheaper coffin."

Chapter 13: If at first you don't succeed...

"'How about the wrong crowd,' I said. 'You getting in with them?'
'Not much luck,' Paul said. 'I'm trying like hell, but the wrong crowd doesn't seem to want me.'
'Don't quit,' I said. 'You want something, you go after it. I was nearly thirty-five before I could get in with the wrong crowd.'"

Chapter 14: You mean it's not just his roguish smile and puckish wit?

"'You been in Springfield?' Vinnie said.
I nodded.
'You been making a pain in the balls of yourself in Springfield?'
'It's the least I can do,' I said. 'Spread it around.'
Vinnie nodded patiently. 'Want to tell me what you been doing out there?'
'It's one of the reasons I like you, Spenser. I can always count on you to be a hard-on. Really consistent, you know. A hard-on every time.'"

Chapter 16: Must be to make the late news people look better...

"I turned on the TV and watched the early news and wondered why the early-news people in every city were wimps. Probably specified it in the recruitment ads. Early-News Person Wanted. Must Be Wimp. Send resume and tapes to..."

Chapter 18: We don't need no steenking batches...

"Actually the cowboy hat Susan had bought me was one of those high-crowned ten-gallon things with a big feather in the band, like Willie Stargell wears. When I had tried it on I hadn't looked like Willie Stargell. I had looked like the Frito Bandito, so we took it back and bought the more modest Gunclub Stetson, with an understated little feather like a trout fly in the band. Susan was after me to get cowboy boots too, but I wasn't ready for them yet. When I got further upscale. Then I could get some, and maybe crossed ammunition belts in the same tone."

Chapter 20: Snow? What snow?

"I followed Gerry Broz around the next day while Washington dug out from what they seemed to think had been Armageddon. In Boston we would have said the storm missed us."

Chapter 22: Thou shalt humble thyself in its presence...

"The august march of government architecture reared on either side of us, the Federal Energy Administration, the Post Office Building, the Justice Department, and across the street the FBI Building. My knee started to bend in genuflection before I caught myself."

Chapter 29: Home sweet home

"At quarter of two I was pulling up in front of an office building on State Street. Before I went into the office building I looked up to the top of State Street where the old South Meeting House stood, soft red brick with, on the second floor, the lion and the unicorn carved and gleaming in gold leaf adorning the building as they had when the Declaration of Independence was read from its balcony and, before it, the street where Crispus Attucks had been shot. It was a little like cleansing the palate. Washington's federal grandeur faded."

Chapter 29: So that's why Boston traffic is so bad...

"Dimly I realized the radio was on and a morning man was talking brightly about the last record and introducing the traffic reporter. Avoid the esplanade; there's a double homicide and a slow-moving vehicle on the footpath."

Chapter 30: See, Quirk really is an old softy

"' Eddie and Roger are not the last two guys that Broz can hire. If he wants you in the ground, he can be persistent. If he succeeds, I want to be able to nail him for it.'
'You sentimental bastard,' I said."


  • Chapter 3: A pastry at the Haverhill Republican Women's Club.
  • Chapter 4: Duck at Apley's.
  • Chapter 6: Wiener schnitzel, fried potatoes, applesauce, and dark bread at The Student Prince and the Fort.
  • Chapter 8:
    • A plate of enchiladas at Acapulco's on Newbury Street.
    • Broiled scallops with lemon butter at the Ritz.
  • Chapter 10:
    • Roast beef sandwich with chutney on whole wheat at the office.
    • Steak at home.
  • Chapter 11:
    • A corn muffin at Dunkin' Donuts.
    • Brisket, pastrami, and Swiss cheese on a roll from Elsie's to eat on the ride back to Springfield.
  • Chapter 13: A sauce of red and green peppers and mushrooms, stir-fried in olive oil and raspberry vinegar, a few walnut meats, tossed with spinach fettuccine, served with grated Jack cheese and whole wheat bread.
  • Chapter 18: Sausage sandwich with fried peppers on French bread at the Market.
  • Chapter 19: Pigeon stuffed with cabbage at Rive Gauche.
  • Chapter 20: A hamburger at the Old Ebbitt Grill.
  • Chapter 25: A large hamburger at Hamburger Hamlet.
  • Chapter 27: Crab cakes in Harbor Place, Baltimore.
  • Chapter 28: Roast duck with fruit stuffing at home.


  • Chapter 1: Murphy's Irish whiskey from the bottle in his office.
  • Chapter 4: Beer with dinner at Aplay's.
  • Chapter 6: German beer, draft, at the Student Prince and the Fort.
  • Chapter 8:
    • More whiskey from the office bottle.
    • Three bottles of Carta Blanca with lunch at Acapuldo's.
    • Budweiser at the Ritz.
  • Chapter 9: Brandy and soda after dinner.
  • Chapter 10:
    • More whiskey from the office bottle.
    • A bottle of red wine with dinner.
  • Chapter 13:
    • Rolling Rock extra pale at home with Paul.
    • Then more Murphy's Irish whiskey.
  • Chapter 16: A couple of beers from room service at the Hay Adams.
  • Chapter 19: Molson at Rive Gauche, Gewurtztramminer with the meal.
  • Chapter 20: Beer with lunch at the Old Ebbitt Grill.
  • Chapter 22: Budweiser at the Class Reunion. "'I didn't order by name,' I said. 'I wonder if this is the house beer.'"
  • Chapter 25: " enormous schooner" of beer at Hamburger Hamlet.
  • Chapter 28: Pinot Noir with supper at home, brandy and soda later.


  • Oops: Several continuity problems in chapters 17 and 18. Much too lengthy to put here, it's on a page I call Adventures in Time and Space
  • Show me the money: Do political candidates have a little extra cash to hire a gumshoe? Yeah, maybe just a wee bit.

Previous book: Ceremony • Next book: Valediction