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Bookends: Spenser does a favour for an old friend March 10, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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WonderlandBookends: Spenser does a favour for an old friend

By Dan Davidson

January 4, 2017

– 830 words –


Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland

By Ace Atkins

Unabridged audiobook

Narrated by Joe Mantegna

7 hours and 2 minutes

Random House Audio



This is book 41 of the Spenser series, the second written by successor writer Ace Atkins following the death of series creator Robert B. Parker. The first of these was Lullaby, which I reviewed as being decent enough, but longer than normal (by about 30 minutes longer than this one in the audio version) and quite a bit more profane in its use of language.

There was a pattern to Parker’s books. There would be a certain amount of cooking, some running, some Boston travelogue, some Susan and a bit of violence. Atkins hit all those notes, but it seemed like he was trying too hard.

He hits them again in Wonderland, but seems to be less forced. He is still more long winded. The last Parker novel was about a 5 ½ hour read and the Atkins’ books I’ve listened to so far clock in at 7 hours plus. In this case, the length is justified by a more complicated plot. At about the point where it seemed the main plot of the story was wrapping up, an unexpected murder sets it off in a new direction.

Susan Silverman is less present in this book than in most of the later Parkers, being on assignment teaching at a university in another city. She drops by Boston on the weekends.

Hawk is entirely absent from this story, being on some sort of personal assignment in Florida.

Atkins has apparently decided to flesh out some characters that are part of the canon, but haven’t been used too much. Zebulon Sixkill, a American Indian former college football player who had fallen on hard times, was introduced in the last of Parker’s novels (Sixkill). In this one he has been taken on as Spenser’s protégé. Z, as he is usually known, suffers from a bit of physical arrogance and had been a budding alcoholic when we met him. He still has that problem, especially when he finds himself physically overmatched by some of the bad guys in this book. So a good part of the story is about Spenser working with Z and Z learning the ropes.

Henry Cimoli owns the gym and training facility, which has been a feature in this series since almost the beginning, but in this book Henry is given a key role and provided with a lot of backstory with which we are not overly familiar.

Someone is trying to force Henry and the other elder residents of the condo where he lives to sell out and move on. The offer is pretty good, but awfully mysterious. Some residents like the proposed deal. Those who don’t, Henry chief among them, have been experiencing a series of increasingly annoying “accidents”. In fact, Spenser and Z enter the picture at about the time when things look to be getting personal and violent. Henry is set upon by a trio of thugs who are scared off by our heroes.

Since no one knows exactly who the interested buyer is, Spenser starts there and soon his poking around, as it often does, causes a series of reactions by the bad guys. Z, who has been tasked with watching over Henry, is set upon and injured by two of the same thugs they met before. He is hurt physically, but also psychologically, and his emotional recovery is one of the subplots in this adventure.

It turns out that the condo is the last piece of property needed to cement a deal for the creation of a casino in the area of the old Wonderland (hence the book’s title) dog racing park. Two parties are competing. One seems marginally more honest than the other, and, just as the deal is brokered with that group, with Spenser acting as mediator, one of the two front men is murdered and the affair takes a whole new turn.

There have been a number of readers in this series over the years, and while all have been interesting for the time of Spenser’s life, Joe Mantegna is one of the best for the most recent stories. Mantegna played the lead role in three made for TV Spenser movies and, to my mind, was better in the part than the late Robert Urich, who starred in the Spenser – For Hire TV series.

His bio includes the tidbit that he was a bass player as a young man in the 1960s, and was a member of the rock/jazz group that eventually morphed into the Chicago Transit Authority, which became just Chicago after that first double album.

He has, of course, been a regular cast member on Criminal Minds since he signed on in 2007 and has provided the voice of Fat Tony on the Simpsons since 1991.




Bookends: Spenser’s new writer has read the Parker Cliff Notes well November 26, 2014

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Bookends: Spenser’s new writer has read the Parker Cliff Notes well

By Dan Davidson

May 14, 2014

– 837 words –


Robert B. Parker’s LullabyLullaby

By Ace Atkins

Berkley Books

381 pages



What happens when a best selling author with a popular book series dies? Quite often the publisher would like to keep the sure thing going and will find someone to carry the torch. Sometimes, as with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, the end of a long saga has been plotted, but not written, and so the successor writer, Brandon Sanderson in that case, has the way mapped out for him. Other times, like V.C. Andrews and Robert Ludlum, the successor writers follow the general pattern of the creator’s work and branch off in new directions.

The late Dr. Parker probably wouldn’t mind what’s being done with three of his series. After all, he tackled the job of finishing one of Raymond Chandler’s unfinished novels and wrote an original Marlowe himself.

My first impression of Ace Atkins’ work is that he has studied the cliff notes for Parker very well. There will be snappy dialogue, with Spenser poking fun at people who think they are more important than they are. There will be suggestions that he and Susan are about to have hot sex, but that will happen behind bedroom doors closed to everyone except maybe Pearl the wonder dog. There will be other scenes with Susan where they discuss the case he is involved in and take a few swings at the meaning of life. There will be several scenes during which Spenser whips up some fabulous sounding concoction in his kitchen. There will be scenes during which he exercises – maybe a run or a session at the gym with the bags. There will be scenes that involve fisticuffs and gunplay.

Atkins has checked off all these boxes, giving us the feel of a genuine Parker for the most part.

There are some things that don’t quite come off though. Spenser’s trademark snappiness was almost too much in evidence, as if he were trying too hard. A lot of his barbs are directed more at other people and in this book there seemed to be a bit too much of it in the internal monologue.

The presentation of Hawk doesn’t quite work. The man is a blend of street tough and educated bon vivant, and his dialogue has generally bounced back and forth between hip patois and college diction. In this book he dresses and acts the part, but doesn’t speak it.

The final thing is something I noticed more because I half read and half listened to this book. When I’m reading and the dialogue gets rough I find I often glide over the words I don’t like to hear and move on with the story. I can’t do that when I’m hearing the book.

Joe Mantegna did a great job of reading the book, but there was a lot more blue language in it than I am used to finding in Spenser novels and, while I’m okay with using language that is appropriate to the setting and the people talking, I didn’t see where all of this helped the story the way it should. Certainly I know it affected my wife’s enjoyment of the book as we drove home a week ago.

Storywise, this is good Spenser territory. A 14 year old girl turns up in his office looking to hire him to find out who killed her mother four years earlier. There’s a guy doing time for the murder, and he probably deserves to be there for a number of other reasons, but she’s convinced this isn’t one of them.

Spenser is reminded of Paul, the boy he rescued and more or less fostered years ago, and he’s certain that Mattie Sullivan needs saving in another way. She’s a difficult client, living and raising her little sisters without much help from her alcoholic grandmother. She’s determined to see this through and it soon becomes clear that she has already raised enough dust by poking at things (a very Spenser-like approach) to put her life in danger.

Spenser takes the case and soon finds that he has attracted the attention of some old mob enemies, a very unsavory killer, and a hard nosed FBI type named Connor who is determined to make his name by taking down some of the same people Spenser is bothering. At one point, Connor actually has Spenser arrested and attempts to frame him in a drug deal. We can see that jousting with this guy will be a part of whatever future Atkins has in store for our hero.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book, and I can see myself picking up another one at some point. Atkins has already produced two more Spenser books over the last three years but, as he has three series out there under his own name, we may not see them as often as we did when Parker was in charge.