Tuesday, May 01, 2012


Those of you who are Robert Parker fans, especially of his wisecracking P.I. Spenser, probably know by now that Parker left us a couple years back. I thought at the time there might be somebody hired to continue telling us the adventures of Spenser, Hawk, Susan, and Pearl the Wonder Dog, along with the the other players, high and low. There was, and the first one, Robert B. Parker's Lullaby is out.

Ace Atkins is a good writer. Look down a previous post or two and you'll see a bit I did on two similar book covers featuring the same image of a bullet hole in thick glass. One of those books is by Atkins, and in my library, so I was already a fan.

How'd he do?

Pretty well. Not an out-of-the-park home run, but a stand-up triple.

Atkins is not Parker, and there are some differences long-time readers will notice. He's  a little wordier, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. He gets the gun stuff right, which is better than Parker sometimes did. But he does capture the essence of the characters and the setting. 

If you came upon this book in a stack of Spenser novels and didn't notice the attribution, you probably wouldn't notice enough differences to feel thrown out of the story. 

He–or his editor–wisely stays in the middle of the formula. Spenser is hired by a fourteen-year-old girl to find her mother's killer. She's a toughie, and there is an instant bond. Spenser starts knocking on doors and getting in the bad guys' faces, and the official story of how the murder happened falls apart. The setting is there, the attention to detail when Spenser cooks, eats, drinks. The lovely Susan. 

Pearl doesn't get as much attention as she usually does. The first meeting with Hawk is a little forced. Parker knew these men, and Hawk and Spenser were two sides of a coin. Atkins works to make sure it is right, and it feels just a hair off. 

Quirk and Belson, Rita Fiore, Vinnie, they are players. Others long-time characters get mentioned in passing, Sixkill, Paul, the gangsters and their shooters. Sometimes that's ladled in a bit thick, but it's not overly disruptive, you just nod and keep going.

One bit of business about Hawk's past is new, but that's it, and frankly, I would rather Atkins not go down that road any further. Half of Hawk is mystery, and better we don't know, I think. 

Overall? I'd give a "B." It's a solid Spenser novel, feels like somewhere in the late canon, not breaking new ground. I suspect that will happen if Atkins stays with it, and it'll be interesting to see that evolution and he gets more comfortable with the cast.

Parker now and then colored outside the lines–in Small Vices, a book in which Spenser is shot and takes a long time to come back, he pushed the boundaries. (For fans of Travis McGee, The Green Ripper jogged way past the usual.) But neither Parker not MacDonald got far away from their winning formulas after that, at least not insofar as Spenser and McGee went. Easy to understand why: When you have a golden goose, you don't screw with it; still, it showed what they could do when they wanted.


Subrata Sircar said...

Interestingly enough, Small Vices and The Green Ripper are two of the books in those series which I re-read most often. Small Vices in particular is a unique Spenser novel - one where he has to conquer multiple challenges and knows he might fail, or be permanently lessened from what he was (and much like Hawk, anything other than what he is is a step down).

The Green Ripper is McGee at his worst - the frighteningly capable man discarding most of his scruples to right a wrong. It's his personal descent into hell, even more so than the other various injuries he suffers.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

I have a book coming that is, at its core, an homage to the Green Ripper. ("The Destroyer of Worlds.") I hope I live long enough to get to it.

Steve Perry said...

I hope so, too. I'd love to read it.