Robert B. Parker’s Old Black Magic by Ace Atkins: Atkins delivers a solid dose of Old Boston Magic

Old Black MagicRobert B. Parker’s Old Black Magic

by Ace Atkins
Series: Spenser, #46

Hardcover, 319 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018
Read: May 2 – 3, 2018

Wow. The Forty-Sixth Spenser novel. Atkins’ seventh, too — it’s hard to believe. I can still remember some of these as clearly as if I read them yesterday — I’m a little vague on some of them, I have to admit (sorry Bad Business and Painted Ladies), but by and large, this is one of those series that’s defined me as a reader. This is one of those that in years to come that I’m going to remember pretty clearly, too, I’m glad to report.

Also, I’m pretty sure that 46 books in, nothing I say here is going to get the series a new reader. Still, I want to talk about it some.

So here’s the pitch: Locke, an older P.I. and friend/associate of Spenser, comes to him for help — he’d like Spenser to take over one of his cases, as she’s fighting a losing battle with a medical problem. Twenty years ago, a Boston museum was robbed — two paintings and one Picasso sketch were stolen. The Boston Police, the FBI and he have turned over every rock they can think of, he’s traveled the word just to find them. But he’s gotten no where — but there’s some new information coming to light — and with the statute of limitations about to kick in, there’s probably no better time to find the painting then now. Spenser agree and plunges right into the hunt.

Whether you’re Spenser or Nero Wolfe, the worst type of client has to be a committee or board* — a committee that’s not entirely sure they want you to work for them is even worse. The museum committee is led by a classic stuffed shirt, Spenser’s always fun to read when he’s antagonizing the pompous. We’ve also got another Spenser trope — a tough, no-nonsense, hard-to-impress client that Spenser slowly wins over — in the museum director. Putting the two of those together is a good combination. The committee has their own replacement for Locke — an anti-Spenser. British, polished, cultured (he’s probably forgotten more about art than Spenser has ever known), not obviously prone to violence, with an approach to this case that’s very different from Spenser’s. As much as I disliked him, I wish we’d gotten a little more time with him.

This is a novel largely dependent on the non-regular characters — clients, witnesses, sources, suspects. There’s no Hawk, no Sixkill, limited Susan, not enough Pearl — so who does Spenser talk to? Henry (a little more than usual), Frank, Quirk, and Rita — and a couple of chats with Vinnie Morris. Things are still not good with Vinnie, but there might be room in that direction — and common enemies can help a lot. Given the Gino Fish connection, of course we have to have a lot of Vinnie.

Spenser’s approach to this case is classic — he goes around talking to every witness, suspect that he can — annoying some, charming some, learning a very little. Then he moves on to the next and the next, and then circles back to the first. Prying a little more, and a little more. This is a very talk-y book. There’s the threat of violence — and even some actual violence — but most of the actual violence was associated with the original burglars, so we hear about it, but don’t see it. Atkin’s solid take on Parker-dialgoue means that this is a fast, fun read. And that’s fine with me.

Back when Robert B. Parker was writing multiple series, one of the fun aspects was watching characters from one series (typically the longer-running, Spenser books) show up in one of the others. Watching Capt. Healy’s interactions with Jesse Stone, for example, provided an interesting counter-point to the way Healy and Spenser got along. Now that there are three authors actively writing the Spenser-verse series, there’s an added twist to that. Recently (long enough ago that I don’t feel too bad saying it), Reed Farrel Coleman killed off Gino Fish. There are huge chunks of this book that are little else than seeing the effects of that death in Boston’s criminal society (for lack of a better term).

How do we get to Gino Fish? When it comes to Art Crimes — especially higher-end stuff — and the resulting fencing, at that time in Boston everything came through Gino’s fingers. Between the references to the late Gino and the fact that the crime in question took place two decades ago, there’s a lot of history covered here as Spenser talks to various criminals/criminal associates while hunting for these paintings. I do mean a lot of history — going back to events in Mortal Stakes (my first encounter with the series) and characters from The Godwulf Manuscript (the first in the series). Yes, there’s a certain element of this being fan-service-y nostalgia on Atkins part. As a serviced-fan, I’m not complaining. But I think it’s more, it’s the kind of series that Parker and Atkins have given us — one that is very aware of its past and draws on it always. (there’s an interesting contrast to be made with the Jesse Stone series on this front).

If you’re looking at this as a mystery novel, or focusing on the plot — I’m not sure how successful it is (better than many, but I’m not sure it’s up to Atkins’ typical standards). But, if you look at it as some time with old friends — Spenser primarily, but even Quirk, Belson, Henry, etc. — it gets better, especially if you’ve got as much history with these characters as many readers do. Throw in the atmosphere, the perfect voice, the longer-term character moves, and you’ve got yourself a heckuva read. Spenser #46 is as entertaining as you could ask for and I’m already looking forward to #47.


* Yes, it bothers me that I can only come up with two names for this truncated list. I can’t imagine that other P. I.’s are immune to this kind of client, but I can’t think of another example. I’ll probably lose sleep over this memory failure.

—–

4 Stars

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My Favorite Fiction of 2017

Is he ever going to stop with these 2017 Wrap Up posts? I know, I know…I’m sick of them. But I’ve already done most of the work on this one, I might as well finish…Also, it was supposed to go up Friday, but formatting problems . . .

Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to my re-reading books that I’ve loved for 2 decades.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½-Star books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

In The StillIn The Still

by Jacqueline Chadwick
My original post

Chadwick’s first novel is probably the most entertaining serial killer novel I’ve ever read. Without sacrificing creepiness, suspense, horror, blood, guts, general nastiness, and so on — she gives us a story with heart, humor and humanity. The second novel, Briefly Maiden is arguably better, but I liked this one a teensy bit more — and I’m genuinely nervous about what’s going to happen in book 3 (not that I won’t read it as soon as I possibly can).

4 1/2 Stars

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

My original post

How do you possibly follow-up 2016’s Debt to Pay, especially with that ending, without dramatically altering the Jesse Stone flavor? I’m still not sure how Coleman did it, but he did — Jesse’s dealing with Debt to Pay in a typically self-destructive way, but is keeping his head mostly above water so he can get his job done, mostly by inertia rather than by force of will. Reflexes kick in however, and while haunted, Jesse can carry out his duties in a reasonable fashion until some friends and a case can push him into something more.

Coleman’s balancing of long-term story arcs and character development with the classic Jesse Stone-type story is what makes this novel a winner and puts this one on my list.

4 1/2 Stars

A Plague of GiantsA Plague of Giants

by Kevin Hearne

This sweeping — yet intimately told — epic fantasy about a continent/several civilizations being invaded by a race nobody knew existed is almost impossible to put into a few words. It’s about people stepping up to do more than they thought possible,more than they thought necessary, just so they and those they love can survive. It’s about heroes being heroic, leaders leading, non-heroes being more heroic, leaders conniving and failing, and regular people finding enough reason to keep going. It’s everything you want in an epic fantasy, and a bunch you didn’t realize you wanted, too (but probably should have).

5 Stars

Cold ReignCold Reign

by Faith Hunter

My original post
Hunter continues to raise the stakes (yeah, sorry, couldn’t resist) for Jane and her crew as the European Vamps’ visit/invasion gets closer. Am not sure what’s more intriguing, the evolution in Jane’s powers or the evolution of the character — eh, why bother choosing? Both are great. The growth in the Younger brothers might be more entertaining — I appreciate the way they’ve become nearly as central to the overall story as Jane. I’m not sure this is the book for new readers to the series, but there are plenty before it to hook someone.

5 Stars

Once Broken FaithOnce Broken Faith

by Seanan McGuire
My original post

Poor planning on my part (in 2016) resulted in me reading two Toby Daye books this year, both just excellent, but this one worked a little bit better for me. Oodles and oodles of Fae royalty and nobility in one spot to decide what they’re going to do with this elf-shot cure leading to a sort-of closed room mystery (it’s just a really big, magical room) with peril on all side for Toby and her found family.

5 Stars

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness
My original post

There were so many ways this could’ve been hacky, overly-sentimentalized, brow-beating, or after-school special-y and Ness avoids them all to deliver a heart-wrenching story about grief, death, love, and the power of stories — at once horrifying, creepy and hopeful.

4 1/2 Stars

Black and BlueBlack and Blue

by Ian Rankin
My original post

Rankin kicked everything into a higher gear here — there are so many intricately intertwining stories here it’s hard to describe the book in brief. But you have Rebus running from himself into mystery after mystery, drink after drink, career-endangering move after career-endangering move. Unrelenting is the best word I can come up with for this book/character/plot — which makes for a terrific read.

5 Stars

SourdoughSourdough

by Robin Sloan
My original post

This delightful story of a programmer turned baker turned . . . who knows what, in a Bay Area Underground of creative, artisanal types who will reshape the world one day. Or not. It’s magical realism, but more like magical science. However you want to describe it, there’s something about Sloan’s prose that makes you want to live in his books.

Do not read if you’re on a low carb/carb-free diet. Stick with Sloan’s other novel in that case.

4 1/2 Stars

The Hate U Give (Audiobook)The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin (Narrator)

My original post

This was a great audiobook –and I can’t imagine that the text version was as great, I just didn’t have time for it. It’s the story about the aftermath — socially, personally, locally, nationally — of a police shooting of an unarmed black male as seen through the eyes of a close friend who was inches away from him at the time.

I think I’d have read a book about Starr Carter at any point in her life, honestly, she’s a great character. Her family feels real — it’s not perfect, but it’s not the kind of dysfunctional that we normally see instead of perfect, it’s healthy and loving and as supportive as it can be. The book will make you smile, weep, chuckle and get angry. It’s political, and it’s not. It’s fun and horrifying. It’s . . . just read the thing. Whatever you might think of it based on what you’ve read (including what I’ve posted) isn’t the whole package, just read the thing (or, listen to it, Turpin’s a good narrator).

5 Stars

The ForceThe Force

by Don Winslow
My original post

There may be better Crime Fiction writers at the moment than Don Winslow, but that number is small, and I can’t think of anyone in it. In this fantastic book, Winslow tells the story of the last days of a corrupt, but effective (in their own corrupt and horrible way), NYPD Task Force. Denny Malone is a cop’s cop, on The Wire he’s be “real police” — but at some point he started cutting corners, lining his pockets (and justifying it to himself), eventually crossing the line so that he’s more “robber” than “cop.” Mostly. And though you know from page 1 that he’s dirty and going down, you can’t help get wrapped up in his story, hoping he finds redemption, and maybe even gets away with it.

But the book is more than that. In my original post I said: “This book feels like the love child of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy. You really feel like you understand how the city of New York is run — at least parts of it: the police, elements of the criminal world, and parts of the criminal justice system. Not how they’re supposed to run, but the way it really is. [Winslow] achieves this through a series of set pieces and didactic pericopes.”

A police story, a crime thriller, a book about New York — oh, yeah, possibly the best thing I read last year.

5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. But I stuck with the arbitrary 10 — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway, those tied for 11th place are: <

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my original post), Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my original post), Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick (yes, again) (my original post), The Twisted Path by Harry Connolly (my original post), Bound by Benedict Jacka (my original post), The Western Star by Craig Johnson (my original post), The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire (see? Another Toby Daye) (my original post), The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh (my original post), Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells(my original post).

Pub Day Repost: The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Jesse Stone, #16
eARC, 352 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
Read: July 3 – 5, 2017

On the one hand, I know that Coleman is a pro, and that he’s going to approach each series, each character from a different angle. But he’s so effective at writing a broken, grieving Gus Murphy, that you have to expect a grieving Jesse Stone to be written as effectively and with a similar depth. Which gave me a little pause when it came to cracking this one open — how much of a mess would Jesse be?

Big. A big mess.

Still, I was chuckling within a few pages — Jesse’s pursuing a path to self-destruction unlike any he’s had before, even that which cost him his career with the LAPD, but at his core he’s still the same guy we’ve been reading for 20 years. He may not care about himself (or at least he wants to punish himself), but Suit, Molly, and the rest of Paradise. When push comes to shove, he’ll do what he has to do. Some times he might need prompting, however.

But let’s set that aside for the moment — there are essentially two stories involving Jesse and the PPD. There’s the titular sonnet — a reference to a legendary lost recording by Massachusetts’ answer to Bob Dylan, Terry Jester. Sometime after this recording, Jester pulled a J. D. Salinger and disappeared from the public eye. Jester is about to turn 75, and a large birthday gala is being planned on Stiles Island. Jesse has to consult with Jester’s manager, PR agent and the chief of security for the island. Jesse can’t stand this idea — he can’t stand much to do with Stiles Island — he just doesn’t want to put up with the hassle, the celebrities, the distraction from the typical duties of PPD. But he doesn’t have much choice — for one, there will need to be something done to deal with the traffic, celebrities, and what not; but Jesse also has to deal with the mayor’s political aspirations. And you don’t get very far without the support (and money) of celebrities and the positive media coverage that kind of thing should bring.

On the other end of the spectrum, an elderly woman has been found dead in her bed, but under suspicious circumstances. She has deep ties to the history of Paradise, causing her death to grab more headlines than it might otherwise. Did I mention the mayor’s political aspirations? Well, the last thing she needs is an unsolved murder when she’s trying to cash in on the media attention that Jester’s celebration will bring. So she starts applying pressure to Jesse. When Jesse starts to think there’s a link between her death and the hunt for The Hangman’s Sonnet master recording, the pressure — and the urge to drink — increases for Paradise’s Police Chief. Thanks to the Law of Interconnected Monkey Business, the reader knew there was likely a link all along, so I don’t think I gave away too much there.

That right there would be enough to get me to read and probably recommend. But you add Coleman’s writing into the mix and you’ve got yourself a winner. There’s a wonderful passage where Jesse meditates on the beauty of the accessories to his drinking — the different glasses, the bottles, the rituals. The mystery was solid work — and I was close to figuring everything out, but not close enough. When the final reveal was made, I felt pretty stupid, all the pieces were there I just didn’t assemble them correctly. There were a couple of “red shirt” criminals early on that were so well written, that even when you know they’re not going to stick around too long, you get invested in them (one of them had a death scene fairly early that most writers would let be predictable — and the death was — but the way that Coleman wrote it got me highlighting and making notes). Coleman even does something that Parker said he couldn’t do.

I won’t say that everything that happened during Debt to Pay has been dealt with thoroughly — it hasn’t. But, most of the characters have been able to get a degree of resolution and closure that means they can move forward. Not perfectly, perhaps, but honestly. Jesse, in particular, might come back for book 17 in a significantly better place (or at least significantly different) — but the core will be there, and woe on any criminal that steps foot into Paradise.

Great character moments; slow, organic development; and top-notch writing. Coleman delivers again, continuing to take the foundation laid by Parker and building on it in a way that’s true to the spirit of the world Parker created, but brought to us with a newfound depth.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Jesse Stone, #16

eARC, 352 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017

Read: July 3 – 5, 2017


On the one hand, I know that Coleman is a pro, and that he’s going to approach each series, each character from a different angle. But he’s so effective at writing a broken, grieving Gus Murphy, that you have to expect a grieving Jesse Stone to be written as effectively and with a similar depth. Which gave me a little pause when it came to cracking this one open — how much of a mess would Jesse be?

Big. A big mess.

Still, I was chuckling within a few pages — Jesse’s pursuing a path to self-destruction unlike any he’s had before, even that which cost him his career with the LAPD, but at his core he’s still the same guy we’ve been reading for 20 years. He may not care about himself (or at least he wants to punish himself), but Suit, Molly, and the rest of Paradise. When push comes to shove, he’ll do what he has to do. Some times he might need prompting, however.

But let’s set that aside for the moment — there are essentially two stories involving Jesse and the PPD. There’s the titular sonnet — a reference to a legendary lost recording by Massachusetts’ answer to Bob Dylan, Terry Jester. Sometime after this recording, Jester pulled a J. D. Salinger and disappeared from the public eye. Jester is about to turn 75, and a large birthday gala is being planned on Stiles Island. Jesse has to consult with Jester’s manager, PR agent and the chief of security for the island. Jesse can’t stand this idea — he can’t stand much to do with Stiles Island — he just doesn’t want to put up with the hassle, the celebrities, the distraction from the typical duties of PPD. But he doesn’t have much choice — for one, there will need to be something done to deal with the traffic, celebrities, and what not; but Jesse also has to deal with the mayor’s political aspirations. And you don’t get very far without the support (and money) of celebrities and the positive media coverage that kind of thing should bring.

On the other end of the spectrum, an elderly woman has been found dead in her bed, but under suspicious circumstances. She has deep ties to the history of Paradise, causing her death to grab more headlines than it might otherwise. Did I mention the mayor’s political aspirations? Well, the last thing she needs is an unsolved murder when she’s trying to cash in on the media attention that Jester’s celebration will bring. So she starts applying pressure to Jesse. When Jesse starts to think there’s a link between her death and the hunt for The Hangman’s Sonnet master recording, the pressure — and the urge to drink — increases for Paradise’s Police Chief. Thanks to the Law of Interconnected Monkey Business, the reader knew there was likely a link all along, so I don’t think I gave away too much there.

That right there would be enough to get me to read and probably recommend. But you add Coleman’s writing into the mix and you’ve got yourself a winner. There’s a wonderful passage where Jesse meditates on the beauty of the accessories to his drinking — the different glasses, the bottles, the rituals. The mystery was solid work — and I was close to figuring everything out, but not close enough. When the final reveal was made, I felt pretty stupid, all the pieces were there I just didn’t assemble them correctly. There were a couple of “red shirt” criminals early on that were so well written, that even when you know they’re not going to stick around too long, you get invested in them (one of them had a death scene fairly early that most writers would let be predictable — and the death was — but the way that Coleman wrote it got me highlighting and making notes). Coleman even does something that Parker said he couldn’t do.

I won’t say that everything that happened during Debt to Pay has been dealt with thoroughly — it hasn’t. But, most of the characters have been able to get a degree of resolution and closure that means they can move forward. Not perfectly, perhaps, but honestly. Jesse, in particular, might come back for book 17 in a significantly better place (or at least significantly different) — but the core will be there, and woe on any criminal that steps foot into Paradise.

Great character moments; slow, organic development; and top-notch writing. Coleman delivers again, continuing to take the foundation laid by Parker and building on it in a way that’s true to the spirit of the world Parker created, but brought to us with a newfound depth.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Pub Day Repost: 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, #45eARC, 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

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.

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4 1/2 Stars

Debt to Pay by Reed Farrel Coleman

Debt to PayRobert B. Parker’s Debt to Pay

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Jesse Stone, #15

eARC, 352 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016

Read: August 20 – 22, 2016

Since the closing pages of Blind Spot, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to fall victim to gravity. Jesse Stone has been, too. Well, after a more typical Stone novel, the wait is over — Mr. Peepers, the sadistic hitman that almost killed Suitcase Simpson and evaded Jesse, is back.

Just in time for just in time for Jesse’s ex, Jen’s wedding.

Before I forget, isn’t that a great move? Build suspense by ignoring the cliffhanger-esque ending for a whole book? In the wrong hands, that’d be annoying, but done right? Very effective.

Jesse and his lady-love, Diana (the FBI agent turned private security consultant) are off to Texas to meet Jen’s fiance, maybe get a little closure, and covertly protect Jen from the special mix of psychological and physical torture that Peepers subjects his victims to before killing them. While Jesse seems to be several steps behind, Peepers seems to be calling all the shots — he’s got all the power and is making Jesse jump through whatever hoops he wants him to.

Meanwhile, changes are afoot with the Paradise Police Department, State Homicide and Suit’s life (and a few other places) — just so we don’t all get too wrapped up in Pepper’s quest for vengeance.

As he has in the previous two novels in this series, Coleman keeps things moving at a great pace, the suspense keeps getting ratcheted up — interspersed by heartwarming, amusing, and troubling moments, so it’s not suspense overkill. There are some great character moments — especially with Diana and Jesse, Suit and a few people, Jesse and a bottle. There’s no mystery here — we all know who the villain of the piece is, the only question is how Peppers will attack and who will remain standing at the end of the book.

In his other major series, Parker introduced a paid assassin, The Gray Man, who almost killed Spenser and plagued him for a while afterwards. Mr. Peepers is far creepier, deadlier, and interesting than the Gray Man ever was. I really didn’t like being in that dude’s head as much as we were — which means that Coleman succeeded in making him a terrible person — I felt like washing my brain out with soap to get over some of the Peepers chapters.

Ace Atkins has returned Spenser to his roots (moved things forward, don’t get me wrong, it’s not just a nostalgia trip), but Coleman has taken Jesse and the rest and shaken things up — he’s stayed true to the characters, the series, the feel — but he’s pushed things ahead and has probably made more real changes to the series than Parker did since book 2 (but making things feel risky and inventive feels like the roots of this series). Actually, he’s not just changed this series — he’s done things that affect the whole of the Parker-verse. Just look at Suit — everything we need to know about what Coleman’s doing to the series is embodied there. I know Coleman’s take is not that popular with some long-time fans, but I couldn’t be happier — either with the series as it is right now, or with this book.

This was riveting, literally never a dull moment — not relentless, you can relax occasionally, even grin. But I had to force myself to put it down to do the responsible adult thing a couple of times. I expect most fans of Jesse and the PPD folks will have similar experiences with Debt to Pay.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from G.P. Putnam’s Sons via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 1/2 Stars