I confess I initially had my doubts about Ace Atkins being able to nail the glib, rat-a-tat-tat voice of Parker, a man who basically redefined and rejuvenated the entire shamus game in the ’80s with his novels featuring beloved Boston private eye Spenser.
I was wrong. It was clear from the first book, Lullaby, that Atkins was more than some farmhand hired to milk the (cash) cow. At the time, Atkins copped to the huge influence Parker had had on him both personally and professionally, and that gratitude and respect showed through. Plus, he has the writing chops and vision to give Spenser a task worthy of his talents. And so we have Spenser back in a third outing by Atkins, hired by Kinjo Heywood, star linebacker for the Patriots, whose bookish nine-year-old son Akira has been kidnapped. Atkins brings out all the moral, ethical, and situational conflicts that made Parker’s series so compelling. Of course, just to be on the safe side, Atkins doesn’t skimp on the wisecracks, the sexually charged banter between Spenser and Susan, the clenched-fist prose, the terse action, the beer, or the doughnuts. Atkins gets it.
Toss in conflicting law enforcement agencies (and the NFL) bickering over the high-profile case, a couple of motor-mouthed “analysts” from local sports talk radio, Kinjo’s bitter ex, a trophy wife with a troubled past, an unsolved NYC nightclub shooting from a few years earlier that the superstar was involved in, a band of kidnappers apparently making it up as they go, and Kinjo’s own loose cannon anger, and you’ve got a satisfyingly tangled mess that Spenser—with the aid of Hawk and Zebulon Sixkill, Spenser’s “apprentice”—will have to sort out if they want to save Akira.
The action falters a bit at the end, seemingly sucker punched by its own final plot twist. But in this often-rousing novel’s closing, Atkins leaves us with a few lines about what a hero can mean to someone. In this unabashed love-letter of a book, it’s a fitting coda.