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A Catskill Eagle Summary
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of A Catskill Eagle by Robert B. Parker.
Like most of his books, Robert B. Parker’s twelfth crime novel featuring Detective Spenser, A Catskill Eagle (1985), is characterized by tight, spare prose and a quick-moving, action-filled plot. The story follows Detective Spenser as he tries to save the woman he loves from what seems to be a case of Stockholm syndrome. Although A Catskill Eagle was never turned into a TV movie, several of Parker’s works involving Detective Spenser have been. The book’s title comes from the Herman Melville quote, “And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he forever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than the other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.”
Detective Spenser’s backstory and character emerge in pieces over the course of the many novels Parker wrote about him: he grew up in Laramie, Wyoming, and now works as a private eye in Boston. He is a former boxer who, famously, once took on heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott. Although he speaks and postures like the tough guy old school detective that Parker helped elevate to archetype status, Spenser (whose first name is never revealed) also has a cultured, James Bondian side: he is well-read, likes to cook, and is guided by a strong moral compass. He even has a signature drink – Scotch. In many ways, Spenser resembles his creator: both, for instance, fought in the Korean War. Spenser served in the First Infantry Division.
Also central to Spenser’s character, and to the plot of A Catskill Eagle, is the detective’s relationship with Susan Silverman. Susan is first introduced as a high school guidance counselor; over the course of the series, she eventually attends Harvard to obtain her PhD in Psychology. She helps Spenser with several of his cases and is his ongoing love interest. In A Catskill Eagle, Susan is essentially in the custody of Russell Costigan. After moving out West to spend some time discovering herself, Susan meets Russell Costigan, and the two begin a strange and co-dependent relationship. Russell is the son of a California tycoon; and, as it turns out, not a very nice man. When he learns that Susan still has feelings for Spenser, it further complicates and darkens their already unhealthy rapport. Spenser’s perennial sidekick and best friend, the mysterious Hawk, having heard from Susan that she’s in trouble, attempted to break her out of Russell’s captivity – for which he has ended up in jail on murder charges (although not for killing Russell). Susan, afraid for herself, sends an urgent letter to Spenser filling him in her situation and Hawk’s arrest.
This sets off a chain of events. First, Spenser must break Hawk out of jail in San Francisco. Hawk, a gun-for-hire and former member of the French Foreign Legion, is Spenser’s long-term companion. The men share a similar ethos and code of honor. After freeing Hawk from prison (with help from a gun stowed away discreetly at the bottom of a fake leg cast), the men begin to tail Russell, who is moving about the country with Susan in his possession. Their adventures lead the men to commit several crimes, spanning murder and arson – which, since they are perpetrated against their enemies, they consider justifiable in their commitment to free Susan.
During their travels, they eventually make an unexpected ally: the CIA. The agency, it turns out, is after Russell Costigan’s father, a notorious and unscrupulous arms merchant. They enlist Spenser and Hawk’s help killing him by promising to pardon their recent crimes in exchange. Eventually, they find the Costigans at their hidden, underground training compound, which they cleverly infiltrate. The expected, Hollywood-style showdown occurs next, and in the end, Susan and Spenser are reunited.
Many professional critics and online reviewers alike have criticized the plot of A Catskill Eagle, which revolves entirely on several poor decisions made by Susan. For her sake, and despite her betrayal of him, Spenser sets off on a spree that includes many violent murders as he attempts to “free” her from imprisonment to which she seems to have consented. Her simultaneous attraction to both Spenser and the meritless Russell seems inexplicable, especially in a woman with extensive study in psychology. It is possible Parker means for her binary attraction to the two men to be symbolic. It has also been pointed out that Parker himself was experiencing trouble in his marriage at this time, and that much of the tension between Susan and Spenser during this period of his writing may be a reflection of the author’s personal struggles.