Spenser is hired to protect ex-undercover cop, Nick Cavanaugh. As Judge Emmett Cavanaugh tries to make a deal with Crime Boss Gus Harley to safeguard his son and get Cavanaugh's son, Kevin, released from prison, Cavanaugh's other son, Georgie, tries to work his own angle. Along the way, Spenser's ex-girlfriend, Susan, returns from San Francisco. Double dealing and family intrigue lead to a terminal shootout.
Spenser and Hawk are on opposite sides of a case when a hot shot young black teenager tries to be a young "Hawk" - his idol. He is a witness to a double murder. Hawk wants to send him away. Spenser wants him to do his duty. Fireworks erupt.
Lt Quirk confronts his own mortality following being outrun by a murder suspect and receiving death threats. While Quirk recovers from a heart attack and contemplates retiring, Spenser and Hawk track down who is making the death threats and shooting at the Lt.
Spenser breaks up a domestic dispute, and gets charged with assault. Meanwhile, Susan is sexually harassed by her thesis adviser and turns to Hawk. Shortly thereafter an attempt is made on Susan's life. As Spenser deals with the assault charge, he and Hawk also track down Susan's assailant, while Susan must defend her program of study before the same board looking into the harassment charges she filed against her adviser.
Spenser takes Susan to Plymouth for Thanksgiving and runs into an old Army buddy whose down on his luck. When his friend, Mike Kaminsky, is accused of murdering the young wife of an elderly philanthropist, Spenser tries to prove him innocent. As Susan looks after the Kaminsky family, Spenser and Hawk search out the shifty background of the murder victim, and deal with the controversy conscious step-son. Attempts on Spenser's life ultimately lead he and Hawk to the those responsible.
A hit man kills one of Spenser's friends in a shoot out on the street. Spenser must defend himself after he shoots a kid while attempting to follow the hit man and is accused by a witness of being reckless. While Spenser struggles with the consequences of his actions, and figures out what the real situation was with the kid he shot, he and Hawk track down the hit man for a final showdown.
Spenser is hired by a prominent local judge in a blackmail case. When the simple exchange turns complicated things get intriguing. Spenser rescues the judge's daughter from a bad situation, and Susan takes her in. Hawk is hired to go up against Spenser in a showdown. Judge Kingsley, his daughter, Hawk and Spenser all have their little secrets to hide in the end.
Susan and Hawk are among the hostages taken by three men during a robbery gone bad at a Post Office. One of the hot headed robbers shoots several people, including critically injuring Hawk. Spenser and Postal Inspector Higgins attempt to help defuse the situation by tracking down the girlfriend of one of the robbers, while Susan and Hawk try to talk the more sensible offenders into surrendering. Sgt Belson struggles to meet the demands of the robbers. In the end, it comes down to Belson balancing the deadline demands of the robbers and the antsy SWAT commander with ...
Spenser's old friend and mentor, Arthur, is mugged on the street, losing a large sum of cash. In trying to help his hero, Spenser finds his good intentioned friend not being wholly truthful. The money trail leads to neighborhood renewal, organized crime, political intrigue, possible corruption in the police department, and the murder of the mugging suspects. Meanwhile, Susan counsels a young boy on the loss of his family.
When the niece of Sgt Belson dies from a cocaine overdose, he hires Spenser to look into the drug dealers. As Spenser and Hawk work their way up the supply chain, Belson deals with his emotional suffering while trying to stay on the right side of the line with the Police Department. Eventually, they meet some shady businessmen, and make a deal with federal agents whilst Belson must make a choice of moral imperative.
Sammy Backlin returns to Boston and requests Spenser to protect him. After a shootout where Spenser gets shot, a package is delivered to his apartment which leads to an old kidnapping case from when he was a rookie cop. Agent Efrem Connors also returns, looking for Backlin. Eventually, they are all drawn into another kidnapping case.
Spenser is asked for help by old boxing friend Joey. But when they walk into the warehouse, someone takes shots at them, forcing Spenser to kill the shooter. As it becomes apparent that Joey has deep gambling debts, Spenser takes him to a hotel to hide out, forcing Joey to realize just how dire his situation is. After Joey takes off, Spenser tries sorting out what Joey was into and how to help him. This leads to Spenser contemplating how people change over time.
Spenser is hired by a theatre producer to help prove her innocence in a murder charge when even her lawyer believes her to be guilty. Meanwhile, the man Hawk is hired to protect is murdered, in what may be related cases.
When an old lawyer friend dies in an traffic crash, Spenser looks into it. A cohort of the lawyer's calls Spenser down to the office to look at some files, but when he arrives the man is dead and two people are ransacking the office files. Later, Susan is kidnapped, an attempt is made on Spenser and Susan's lives, and Hawk is blinded.
When the daughter of a Navy captain is murdered, suspicion falls on the (black) lieutenant who had been having an affair with her. McAllister, an honorable attorney and an old friend of Hawk's comes to defend him.
Susan enlists Spenser's help in determining the past of a young amnesiac woman who had been sexually abused as a child. The inquiry brings Spenser back to the case of a young girl who was kidnapped from her wealthy family, the case that he resigned from the police force over. When someone puts out a contract on Spenser, and the shady acquaintance she's been living with is killed, he must determine if it has anything to do with the true identity of the young woman.