Opening Lines – Dead Gone

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

She hadn’t been afraid of the dark.

Not before.

Not before it entered her life without her knowing, enveloping her like a second skin, becoming a part of her.

She hadn’t been claustrophobic, petrified the walls were closing in around her. Crushed to death without knowing they’d even moved. Not scared of things that crawled around her toes. Wasn’t afraid to sit alone in a darkened room and wonder if something was touching her face, or if it was just her imagination.

Nope. She wasn’t scared before.

She was now.

It took time to become afraid of those things, and time was all she had, stretching out in front of her without end.

She blamed herself. Blamed her friends. Blamed him. She shouldn’t be there, and someone was to blame for that.

Had to be.

from Dead Gone by Luca Veste

This tells you so much about the victim, her life and what’s about to happen to her (and who’s behind what’s about to happen) — such a good opening.

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

Opening Lines – Staked by Kevin Hearne

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

I didn’t have time to pull off the heist with a proper sense of theatre. I didn’t even have a cool pair of shades. All I had was a soundtrack curated by Tarantino playing in my head, one of those songs with horns and a fat bass track and a guitar going waka-chaka-waka-chaka as I padded on asphalt with the uncomfortable feeling that someone was enjoying a voyeuristic close-up of my feet.

from Staked by Kevin Hearne

Opening Lines – My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero. That’s just how it is. Anyone who doesn’t agree needs their head examined.

That’s what Elsa’s granny says, at least.

Elsa is seven, going on eight. She knows she isn’t especially good at being seven. She knows she’s different. Her headmaster says she needs to “fall into line” in order to achieve “a better fit with her peers.” Other adults describe her as “very grown-up for her age.” Elsa knows this is just another way of saying “massively annoying for her age,” because they only tend to say this when she corrects them for mispronouncing “déjà vu” or not being able to tell the difference between “me” and “I” at the end of a sentence. Smart-asses usually can’t, hence the “grown-up for her age” comment, generally said with a strained smile at her parents. As if she has a mental impairment, as if Elsa has shown them up by not being totally thick just because she’s seven. And that’s why she doesn’t have any friends except Granny. Because all the other seven-year-olds in her school are as idiotic as seven-year-olds tend to be, but Elsa is different.

She shouldn’t take any notice of what those muppets think, says Granny. Because all the best people are different–look at superheroes. After all, if superpowers were normal, everyone would have them.

from My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

It was really hard to stop where I did, I wanted to use the first three pages, but am pretty sure that it’d get me in copyright trouble.

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)