Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies by Ace Atkins

Really, all I want to say about this book is: “Yes! Atkins did it again — it’s just so good, folks. Long-time fans’ll love it, new readers will likely see the appeal of the series. A lot of fun with a great ending!” But that seems a little surface-y and is just bad writing. But really, that’s everything I’ve got to say.

Little White LiesRobert B. Parker’s Little White Lies

by Ace Atkins
Series: Spenser, #45

eARC, 320 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017

Read: March 16 – 17, 2017

Pearl and I were off to Central Square . Her long brown ears blew in the wind as we drove along Memorial Drive against the Charles. Rowers rowed, joggers jogged, and bench sitters sat. It was midSeptember and air had turned crisp. The leaves had already started to turn red and gold, shining in Technicolor upon the still water.

I debated about what quotation I’d open with — I went with this Parker-esque (and Atkins-esque) description. Little White Lies is one of the better of Atkins run on this series, because (like here) he did something that feels like something Parker would’ve written, but not quite what he’d have said (the more I think about it, the less I think that Parker’d have said “bench sitters sat”).

Actually, that’s true of the other quotation I almost used, too:

I nodded , adding water to the new coffeemaker sitting atop my file cabinet. I’d recently upgraded from Mr. Coffee to one of those machines that used pre-measured plastic cups. I placed my mug under the filter, clamped down the lid, and returned to my desk. Demonic hissing sounds echoed in my office. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

This is Atkins sixth Spenser novel, and you’d think he’s got enough of a track record that I could stop comparing him to Parker. Well, you’d be wrong — I can’t stop. This, like most of Atkins’ work on this series, is so reminiscent of early Parker novels that it makes some of the latter Parkers look more like they were written by a hired gun. Still, I’m going to try to keep it to a minimum because it doesn’t seem fair to keep doing.

Susan has sent one of her clients to Spenser for some help that she can’t provide. Connie Kelly had been dating someone she met online, invested in one of his real estate deals — and he vanished, taking the money with him. Could Spenser track him down and get her cash back? Sure, he says. It doesn’t take long for the investigation to show that he owes plenty of people money — a couple of months rent here, hundreds of thousands of dollar there.

Here’s the fun part: M. Brooks Welles, the deadbeat in question, is a silver-haired, silver-tongued mainstay on cable news. He’s former CIA, and an expert on military and national security issues — one of those that producers call on regularly when they need a talking head. Why’s a guy like that flaking out on real estate deals? Spenser knows something fishier than expected is going on — which takes him into a world of mercenaries, gun deals, and the ATF.

Then someone tries to kill him. A couple of times. And the book stops feeling like a semi-light adventure, poking fun at the blowhards on cable TV and the state of American Journalism, and how we shouldn’t trust as many people who have cameras pointed at them as we do. Things take on a different tone, bodies start piling up, and a darkness slips in to the book. This also brings in Belson and his new boss — who’s still not a fan of Spenser. About the same time, Connie starts to waver in her conviction that she wants her money back and Welles punished. Spenser, naturally, doesn’t care and plows ahead. Hawk is able to connect Spenser with some mercenaries that travel in the same circles as Welles and the chase is on. Eventually, the action moves from Boston and its environs to Georgia. Which means that Teddy Sapp is going to make an appearance.

All the characters were great — I would’ve liked some more time with some of Welles’ co-conspirators in Boston, I think it’d have helped round out our picture of his crimes. But it’s a minor complaint. We also got plenty of interaction with his Georgia-based colleagues. Even the characters that show up for a page or two as witnesses to the crimes were interesting — it’s the little things like those that add so much. It was nice to see Teddy Sapp again, too. He was the best part of Hugger Mugger (faint praise, I realize). The Hawk material was very good — maybe Atkins’ best use of the character yet.

I fully expect that people are going to spend a lot of time talking about the ending — it didn’t feel like a Parker ending. That said, it felt like an ending that pre-A Catskill Eagle Parker might have tried. It was satisfying, don’t misunderstand, it’s just not the kind of ending that Parker employed. Honestly, there were two other perfectly acceptable places to end the book — and if not for the progress bar at the bottom of my screen, I might have believed that thee ending was earlier and equally strong.

Now, because Atkins and the Parker estate aren’t stupid, there are certain characters that you just know are safe, no matter what shenanigans that they’ve let Atkins and Coleman get away with when it comes to killing off long-term supporting characters. But there was a definite feeling of peril when it comes to [name redacted] and [name redacted]. Sure I knew they’d live to be read about another day, but I wondered how healthy they’d be in the meantime.

This is sharply written, as usual. Atkins knows what he’s doing (in this series or anything else) — a great mix of character moments and plot. Spenser’s voice is strong — as are the voices of the other regulars. It was just a pleasure to read through and through. Let me leave you with one more snippet that is could’ve come from an early-80’s Spenser just as easily today’s, a voice like this is enough reason to read the book — the rest is just gravy (and there’s plenty of gravy):

I returned with sore legs back to my seat on the steps. I spent the next fifteen minutes watching women of all ages, sizes, and colors walk past me. I liked the way most women walked. I liked the way they dressed. And talked and smelled. I was pretty damn sure I was a fan of women in general. Did this make me a sexist or a feminist? Or somewhere in between.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Innocents by Ace Atkins

The InnocentsThe Innocents

by Ace Atkins
Series: Quinn Colson, #6

Hardcover, 367 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016

Read: July 25 – 26, 2016

“I never met this girl or knew her family,” [Ophelia] said. “But, holy shit, this is a horror among horrors. I try to not focus on Old Testament stuff. But . . . I hope there’s some revenge out there somewhere. I don’t know if there’s another way to make it right.”

“You can’t make shit like this right,” Quinn said.

But before we get to the horror, we get one of the funniest openings that Tibbehah County has given us — a meth-head steals a shotgun and a four-wheeler, and is apprehended by the acting Sheriff, Lillie Virgil(!!), in a very effective, but not that orthodox a manner. And then, of course, after Atkins gets you chuckling he introduces you to the murder victim. It’s not unheard of in a crime novel, but we spent a decent amount of time getting to know her before she died in one the worst ways I remember reading. Reading as many Detective/Crime/etc novels as I do, I’ve read some evil way s to kill some one, and some really sick things — see Val McDermid, Thomas Harris, Stieg Larsson –but this ranks up there with the worst. And it felt real, like something that could happen down the road, not the victim of diseased mind like the psychos those listed above write about. In fact, Ophelia Bundren, the coroner (who, incidentally has some of the best lines in the book — and not just what was quoted above) spoke for just about everyone in the county there (including some of the least-upstanding members of the community who will echo her). It’s a good thing that Tibbehah County has their most capable law enforcement officer in forever at the helm (and she hires a certain former Sheriff as temporary help).

It took no time at all to know how did it (or at least who was largely responsible) — actually, pretty sure I’d identified the perpetrator and the motive before the killing — but that didn’t stop this from being one of Atkins’ most compelling crime stories.

Along with all that, there are plenty of other goings on . . .

Lillie Virgil is acting as Sheriff, and isn’t dealing well with the politics. She deals well with the policing, but that’s it — between being a woman, having almost no people skills and not backing down when people want her to, things aren’t going too well for her. Which is a shame, still, it’s nice to see her in the spotlight.

Johnny Stagg’s in federal prison, and learning just who his friends are. Not surprisingly, there are fewer than he’s used to. Someone else has taken over the Booby Trap, given it a better name (finally!) and a make over. All in all, it’s a better class of strip club and the owner appears slightly less despicable.

Jason Colson has a new pipe dream and he looks to be sucking Quinn into helping out — honestly, my patience with this character is pretty low — I think the only person in the world who likes him less is Quinn’s mother, Jason’s ex. He’s not as destructive a force as the storm that just about wiped out the town a couple of years ago, but it’s a close race.

And things with Anna Lee are in a pivotal spot. That’s enough about that.

Quinn’s still in that same period of decision after losing the election a year or so ago — the man needs a little direction in his life and hopefully he gets it soon.

The power of small-town High School football, convenient racism, small town crime, Real World Evil, friendship, and personal history — as usual, Atkins brings it all and delivers it with skill, charm and aplomb. I thoroughly enjoyed this trip to Mississippi and look forward to my next trip there.

—–

4 Stars

Cheap Shot (Audiobook) by Ace Atkins, Joe Mantegna

Cheap Shot (Audiobook)Robert B. Parker’s Cheap Shot

by Ace Atkins, Joe Mantegna (Narrator)
Series: Spenser, #42

Unabridged Audio, 7 Hours and 30 Minutes

Random House Audio, 2014
Read: June 7 – 9, 2016


This is a very mixed bag of an audiobook. I loved the novel 3 years ago, and enjoyed reliving it. But man, the narration was just not my thing. But I’ll get back to that in a bit.

I stand by pretty much everything that I said 3 years ago (although, I seem to have missed/underrated one plot point last time — I totally bought it this time). Here’s some of what I said before that still applies:

On the one hand, this is not Atkins’ best Spenser. But it’s the one that feels like Parker more than the rest (make of that what you will). The banter, the poking around and stirring things up until you get a break, the fisticuffs, the donuts, the gun fight, the needling of underworld players, and so on — he captures Parker’s voice and pacing better here than he’d managed before (yet doesn’t come across as pastiche). Spenser’s sniffing around the big money and big boys (and a few men) in sports, which serve as a good place for Spenser to reflect how men are to act. Parker did this Mortal Stakes and Playmates (and to lesser extents elsewhere — like Early Autumn), and Atkins is able to do that here (arguably he does so with a subtlety that Parker didn’t achieve).

Kinjo Heywood’s a fun character — slightly more grounded than Mortal Stakes‘ Marty Rabb, far more mature and grounded than Playmates‘ Dwayne Woodcock. One advantage Heywood has is his son, Akira (who’s plenty of fun on his own) — he has someone to provide a good example to, and he strives to. Heywood also seems to have thought ore about life and how one should live it. Marty seemed to think only about Linda (his wife) and baseball, Dwayne was all about his girlfriend (Chantel) and basketball, too — but with less self-examination, it’s just that’s all he had the chance to think about (although Chantel would see that changed, and his horizons broadened if she had anything to say about it). Heywood’s got a kid, he’s been through a divorce, and is fully aware of his place in the limelight (including social media) and his own shortcomings. This alone saves the book from being a reworking of Parker.

I should add that Sixkill has a lot of perspective here (with the assistance of Atkins’ own background in football) — he was close to Heywood’s level, and if he’d made one or two better choices, he would’ve been at this level. He has a better idea what’s going on in Heywood’s mind than Spenser and his brief stint in the boxing world would.

The book begins with Spenser doing bodyguard duty — and as always (Stardust, Looking For Rachel Wallace, A Savage Place, Rough Weather) things don’t go well. You’d think people’d stop hiring him for this kind of work. Spenser turns to investigating — and unearthing lie after lie from his client — while getting Hawk and Sixkill to pitch in on the bodyguard front.

In addition to the main characters, Hawk, Susan, Sixkill, Tony Marcus, and so on; Atkins continues to show a command and familiarity with the impressive gallery of supporting characters in the Spenser-verse. And the new characters fit into the ‘verse just fine, nothing that Parker wouldn’t have created.

Not only did Atkins give us a good story this time, he appeared to be planting and/or watering seeds for future books at the same time — something Parker never bothered with, but I’m glad to see.

About the only thing I’d like to add on this front is that I think I liked the story more this time around.

So much for the lovefest. I just didn’t like Mantegna’s work. I know, I know — he’s done many, many of the Spenser Audiobooks; Parker loved his work with Spenser (even getting him cast in those semi-regrettable movies); and he’s Joe bleepin’ Mantegna. Still, it didn’t work for me. When he was reading the narrative parts — Spenser describing what he was doing, what he was seeing, etc., even making smart aleck asides — I dug it. He did a perfectly entertaining job — maybe even more.

But the strength of Parker’s work was his dialogue, and Mantegna fell flat (at best) on this front. Spenser sounds like Fat Tony, which just should not be. Ever. Kinjo sounds like a stereotypical old blues man, not a young NFL linebacker. Hawk sounds like a slightly younger blues man. And don’t get me started on Zee. That was just embarrassing. Most of the other characters were pretty poorly done, as well. And when the book is so reliant on dialogue, so reliant on the charm of the characters, that missing with just about all of them hurts.

So, like I said, great writing, mediocre (when not disappointing) narration. Please note this rating is for the Audiobook — the whole experience, the narration as well as the writing — still love the book, and would recommend the novel in a heartbeat. This? Eh. It was entertaining enough, but that’s it. Still, any time with Spenser is time well spent.

—–

3 Stars

Slow Burn by Ace Atkins

Slow BurnRobert B. Parker’s Slow Burn

by Ace Atkins
Series: Spenser, #44

Hardcover, 304 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016

Read: May 5, 2016

On the Greenway, a carousel turned to calliope music. The two men approached me. They tried to act like they were shopping, but they were as unobtrusive as a couple of linebackers at a Céline Dion concert.

Say what you will about the relative merits of Atkins’ two current series, but you won’t get lines like that from Quinn Colson (maybe from Lille Virgil). (That’s not really the best line of the book — it’s just the one that requires the least setup)

We’re introduced to a new world here — the Boston Fire Department, and the Arson investigators in particular (but not exclusively). It’s a little harder for Spenser to work his magic here, at least at first, being very much a duck out of water. But, he keeps at it, and eventually things start falling into place — even if he makes one serious (and perhaps life-threatening) mistake early on. There’s a series of suspected arsons, but the proof is minimal, and it doesn’t push the investigators in the right direction — or any direction, really. The usual motives (fascination with fire, insurance money) don’t seem to be involved here.

I should add that the motive for the crimes is interesting, if misguided. I’d almost like to see a bit more of it explored by the good guys, but that’s not what this book is about.

Spenser and his allies do their thing, the way they always do (but fueled by a different donut source). The same ol’ charm, wise cracks, and fists eventually do their job. I think this one is a notch above Atkins’ last — a couple of notches below Atkins or Parker at their best, but better than Parker’s average. The fact that I have to work this hard to decide where exactly in the 40+ this one lies says something — it’s on the good end, I should stress — but it’s hard to distinguish this from the master himself, Robert B. Parker.

There’s some good fodder for long-time fans here — Marty Quirk has a new job, Frank Belson has a new boss (one not particularly taken with Spenser). Not only do we get a callback to Mattie Sullivan, but we get a couple from the more distant parts of Spenser’s past — A Catskill Eagle and Promised Land, one of my least favorites and one of Parker’s best. Atkins’ ability to use for the current narrative, comment on, and tap into fanboy nostalgia all at the same time is really something to watch.

Atkins is again feeling confident enough in his role here to make significant moves in Spenser’s life — not to mention Pearl’s and Sixkill’s. I’m not sure I’m crazy about the latter two, but I’m trusting Atkins. I’m pretty sure he has a plan regarding our favorite disgraced athlete that’ll pay off. Can’t help but wonder what Parker had in store for him, though.

Speaking of plans and things in store — it’s pretty clear that Atkins has a plan for Jackie DeMarco, too. I hope it takes a few books to pull it off, but I fear it won’t.

I’m very glad to hear that we’ve got at least two more of these coming, Atkins is really helping me stay in touch with an old, old friend. I smiled, I chuckled, I even laughed a couple of times, and I reminisced a little, while wondering just how Spenser was going to save the day. All in all, a good way to spend a couple of hours. Now I’ve just got to count down the months until #45.

—–

4 Stars

The Redeemers by Ace Atkins

The RedeemersThe Redeemers

by Ace Atkins
Series: Quinn Colson, #5

Hardcover, 370 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons , 2015
Read: August 7 – 10, 2015

The first thing you want to do after being shot is make sure you are not shot again.

That sentence just makes me grin. Which, honestly, is not something that someone spends a lot of time doing while reading a Quinn Colson novel. But The Redeemers is not your typical Quinn Colson novel.

We start off with Quinn on one of his last days as sheriff — Johnny Stagg, the man Boss Hogg wanted to be, finally worked his magic and got the election result that he worked so hard for — Quinn’s out and a man of his backing is in. Most readers are going to instinctively prefer Colson. and want to not like his successor, Rusty Wise. Rusty was most recently an insurance salesman, although he did work as a police officer for a time (nothing to noteworthy in his career — or at least not that Stagg didn’t bury). The problem with being anti-Rusty is that he’s actually a decent guy (sorry, Johnny), who honestly thought he could do a better job than Colson — and gets thrown into the fire on his first day (hours before it, really). Now, we all know — and Lillie Virgil will tell you — Wise is no Colson, not even close. But he’s trying.

On the other end of the spectrum, are a few idiotic criminals — you’ve got the so-called master safe cracker and his University of Alabama Football-obsessed nephew/apprentice, hired by a local to help he and his friend get revenge on a crooked businessman. I’m fairly certain these criminals had noticed that they had no place to live without Elmore Leonard, so they dropped by to see how they’d fare in Tibbehah County. Short answer: they were better off before. If you don’t chuckle at these numbskulls at least one, call your doctor and get your funny bone checked. Lille and Wise have the lead on this investigation, but the wife of their victim gets Colson to check into it a bit, too.

He gets pulled in because that woman is the aunt of Anna Lee — who has definitively left her husband, who has definitively left town, so she and Quinn can definitively do something about their old flame. Which is just one of the balls that Quinn has to keep in the air on the personal side — his father’s moving into Quinn’s house and bringing his horses on to Quinn’s land; his sister Caddy has fallen way off the wagon again; and Quinn’s unemployed — unless he wants to get a job at the new Wal-Mart, he’s going to have to do something about that. There’s an element of “oh, this again?” with Caddy’s struggles with drug addiction. But what do you want from that kind of thing? And with Quinn’s father, I felt a strong, “ugh, how long are we going to out up with this guy?” (I think Quinn agrees with me),

You have to ask (and people do), why does Quinn stay in Jericho? For that matter, why does Caddy (not just because Quinn drags her back), why does Lillie? Part of it is because it’s where they grew up, where they are home. Part of it, is hard to pin down, but Quinn touches on it while talking with the federal agent, undercover in Stagg’s business:

“There’s more to the place than the ugliness,” Quinn said. “Maybe someday I can take you out hunting and fishing and you can know more than just that . . . truck stop. Get out on Choctaw Lake and out into the National Forest.”
“I’d like that.”
“Folks like Stagg and Cobb haven’t ripped all the guts out of the place,” Quinn said. “There’s still a lot left.”

I do fear that Assistant Sheriff Lillie Virgil is given short shrift again. Yes, every time she’s used, she’s: competent, dangerous, smarter than most people in the room with her. She just seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to story, to emotional arcs, and the like. I want more for her — professionally, personally, and narratively. Now, along the same lines, but perhaps more importantly: can someone arrange a novel/short story/something where Lille and Vic Moretti team up? Yes, it’s possible that would be just too much feminine toughness and gunplay for audiences. But surely, it has to be tried.

For the most part the book keeps trudging along — interesting, occasionally funny — but nothing special — Stagg’s up to his thing, Quinn’s figuring out his next move, the Leonard refugees are seemingly trying to get caught. But nothing that really grabs you. Until you get to the last 60± pages, that is. After lulling the reader into a false sense of security, Atkins packed a while lotta happenings, and loose ends being tied up and bodies being dropped into these pages. Action, and emotion, and a dream sequence that seems straight out of Craig Johnson.

In interviews, Atkins states that the next novel is going to be dark (which is part of why this is so light) — I’m a little worried about what that means. I’m pretty sure the only one who’s safe is the guy who’s name is in the series title (though it wouldn’t surprise me if he got really banged up — but he’ll survive).

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Kickback by Ace Atkins

KickbackKickback

by Ace Atkins
Series: Spenser, #43

Hardcover, 292 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons , 2015
Read: May 20, 2015

As you may have noticed yesterday, I read Ace Atkin’s latest novel featuring Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Now, with Ace Atkins/Reed Farrel Coleman taking over Robert B. Parker’s characters it’s really hard for me to be dispassionate/critical — unless they annoy me — or worse (see Michael Brandman, or — <a href="https://irresponsiblereader.com/2014/01/28/murder-in-the-ball-park-by-robert-goldsborough” target=”_blank”>Robert Goldsborough doing that for Rex Stout). I am capable of actual critical thought, I think. I’m pretty sure. But it takes time, and I just want to get this up. Soooo, I’m going to try to throw up some quick thoughts/impressions on Kickback

It started off strong — a couple pages of intro material from a third-person point of view that established a hopeless, inevitable tone. And then we turn the page and get something that might as well be vintage Parker. I smiled like a goofball throughout the note-perfect first chapter. It was like visiting an old, dear friend. Speaking of old friends, loved the callback to The Godwulf Manuscript (which, because I’m that kind of nerd, I feel compelled to point out I recognized before Atkins spelled it out). Atkins has been, and continues to be, skilled at dropping in these bits of Spenser’s background — enough to demonstrate that he knows the world and to satisfy fans like me — but not so much to clutter up things. Still, it’s time for Paul to show up.

As this is the 43rd installment of this series, it’s going to be reminiscent of a few others — there’s a little bit of Small Vices in this, and a couple of others, but this is primarily a new Ceremony, but without the moral ambiguity. In this case, we have judicial (and police) corruption tied to a private prison (in all but name) for adolescents in a small town. Some people have tried to fight this, but it only serves to make things worse — fatally so in some cases. This isn’t anything new to Spenser or crime fiction, in fact, it’s borderline cliché. But Atkins treats it with respect, and uses the tried and true story to reflect on current problems with the prison industry.

Hearkening back to Crimson Joy (maybe others that I’m not remembering), we have some third-person intercalary chapters — more successful than the serial killer’s POV in the earlier work. These trace the arrest, court appearance and detention of one of the town’s youth. Not Spenser’s client — but someone he befriends. The knot in my stomach got tighter and tighter each time. Really well done.

I continue to like Susan à la Atkins, she’d gotten boring during Parker’s later years, but she’s back and fun. Hawk is still Hawk, but Atkins has turned back the clock a bit on him, too. I’m going to stop here before I mention how Belson, Quirk, and so on have received similar treatment. This has reinvigorated the series, renewed my interest (and, from what I’ve seen) and the interest of others — this is just what Spenser needed. Yes, I’d rather Parker had done this — but I’m glad Atkins has in his place.

I do think the last fifty pages or so were rushed — things outside the detention center seemed rushed — another chapter or two spent gathering evidence might have helped me accept things. Still, so many other things in this one worked so well, I was able to overlook it (I might have harsher things to say later on, or with future re-reads).

I’m giving this 5 Stars. I’m not utterly convinced it earned it — if it was another author with another P.I., I might not. At the same time, from page 1 on, I was hooked and only put this down for a few seconds at a time when work required it until I was done. I laughed, I worried about a couple of clients, I had fun — I was thoroughly engaged the whole time. Which pretty much equals 5 Stars no matter who wrote it and who starred in it. I really, really liked it — but I could’ve told you that was probably going to be the case months ago when I ordered it.

—–

5 Stars

Opening Lines – Kickback

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here. Dare you not to read the rest of the book

On the first day of February, the coldest day of the year so far, I took it as a very good omen that a woman I’d never met brought be a sandwich. I had my pair of steel-toed Red Wings kicked up on the corner of my desk, thawing out, when she arrived. My morning coffee and two corn muffins were a distant memory.

She laid down the sandwich wrapped in wax paper and asked if my name was Spenser.

“Depends on the sandwich.”

“A grinder from Coppa in the South End,” she said. “Extra provolone and pickled cherry peppers.”

“Then my name is Spenser,” I said. “With an S like the English poet.”

“Rita said you were easy.”

“If you mean Rita Fiore, she’s not one to judge.”

from Kickback by Ace Atkins


(technically, not the opening lines, but this is the beginning of Chapter 1, so it sorta counts)