Illuminate has so many definitions. First, and most obvious, it means to supply or brighten with light. Or it can mean to make lucid or clear, to throw light on a subject. But today I’m using the definition: to make resplendent or illustrious, illustrated manuscripts to be precise. An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript, from the Western or Islamic traditions, in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration, such as decorated initials, borders and miniature illustrations. The manuscript may be decorated with gold or silver, but the term usually refers to any decorated or illustrated manuscript. Most of the surviving examples come from the Middle Ages and Renaissance period, although examples from as early as 400 AD exist.

From Thesinge Breviary, an illuminated manuscript from a Benedictine monastery in the Netherlands.

Image credit: Lost and Found

It amazes me the amount of work, time, and love went into these works. Not only are they artistically gorgeous, they helped save these writings, mostly religious works. The very existence of illuminated manuscripts as a way of giving stature and commemoration to ancient documents may have been largely responsible for their preservation during a time when “barbarian hordes” had overrun continental Europe and most of the people, including the royalty, were illiterate.

In The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker, Spencer, a private detective is hired by a university in Boston when an illuminated manuscript is stolen and held for ransom. His only lead is a student organization, SCACE (Student Committee Against Capitalist Exploitation), but it’s not too far into the story when one of the students is dead, with the group’s secretary, Terry Orchard, the only suspect. The trail leads to a professor and a crime boss, but even after the manuscript is anonymously returned, Spencer continues his investigation, determined to prove Terry innocent.

This is the first of Parker’s Spenser series, published in 1973. It’s also the only one I’ve read, and I’m not sure why I’ve never picked up this series before. Spenser is a great character, tough, determined, a smart-aleck and, apparently, quite the ladies’ man. He’s also a good cook. How can I not like a detective who, the day after getting shot, takes time to fry up some sausages and apples?

The descriptions are well-done, making me feel like I was there with Spenser, and the dialogue is snappy and tight, and Spenser definitely thinks he’s funnier than anyone else does. The plot is a little meandering, I thought, going from the manuscript and murder to drug-dealing and the mob to a nutty professor, but it kept me engrossed and entertained.

The book did feel a little dated at times, with the slang, clothes and constant smoking, by everyone, everywhere, but it didn’t bother me. It was more an interesting look back at a culture I was never a part of. (I was born the year after this was published.)

I’m definitely glad I picked The Godwulf Manuscript up. It feels like a classic PI novel, and I hope the rest of the series hold up.

4 out of 5 stars

Category: Mystery- Private Detective

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Spenser #1
First published 1973
208 pages

Book source: Purchased

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Spenser Series

  1. The Godwulf Manuscript
  2. God Save the Child
  3. Mortal Stakes
  4. Promised Land
  5. The Judas Goat
  6. Looking for Rachel Wallace
  7. Early Autumn
  8. A Savage Place
  9. Ceremony
  10. The  Widening Gyre
  11. Valediction
  12. A Catskill Eagle
  13. Taming a Sea-Horse
  14. Pale Kings and Princes
  15. Crimson Joy
  16. Playmates
  17. Stardust
  18. Pastime
  19. Double Deuce
  20. Paper Doll
  21. Walking Shadow
  22. Thin Air
  23. Chance
  24. Small Vices
  25. Sudden Mischief
  26. Hush Money
  27. Hugger Mugger
  28. Potshot
  29. Widow’s Walk
  30. Back Story
  31. Bad Business
  32. Cold Service
  33. School Days
  34. Hundred-Dollar Baby ( APA: Dream Girl)
  35. Now and Then
  36. Rough Weather
  37. Chasing the Bear: A Young Spenser Novel (prequel, YA)
  38. The Professional
  39. Painted Ladies
  40. Sixkill
  41. Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby (due May 1, 2012, written by Ace Atkins)