Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Review: Robert B. Parker's Lullaby

Robert B. Parker's Lullaby Robert B. Parker's Lullaby by Ace Atkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert B. Parker is dead! Long live Robert B. Parker!

Here we have the first Spenser novel done by Ace Atkins who was chosen to take over the series after RBP shuffled off this mortal coil. How did Atkins do? Pretty damn well. In fact, he outshines a lot of the later RBP books.

Spenser gets hired by a 14 year old girl named Mattie whose mother was killed when she was 10. Mattie saw her mother pushed into a car by a couple of local thugs, but since her mom was a drug addicted barfly and the cops caught and convicted another likely suspect, no one was interested in listening to her. Spenser is impressed with the tough and stubborn Mattie who is driven to get justice for her mother even as she takes care of her twin younger sisters while living with her drunken grandma so he agrees to help for the princely fee of a dozen doughnuts. Investigating the case puts Spenser up against some old enemies as well as pissing off a volatile FBI agent.

I’m on record with numerous complaints about the Spenser franchise in the latter part of RBP’s career. The guy had gotten pretty lazy with repeated themes and characters types, and it often seemed that even Spenser was bored as he worked through his cases. Atkins does an impressive job of delivering all the familiar Spenser elements while injecting some fresh life into the series.

Spenser is more lively and engaged. Hawk comes across as slightly edgier and angrier, much like his earlier incarnation. Susan seems like a decent girlfriend instead of a bitchy goddess to be worshipped and obeyed, and Atkins wisely limits the amount of time she and Spenser spend together. That alone would probably make most long-time Spenser readers rejoice.

It’s obvious that Atkins was a fan of this series and probably had a helluva lot of fun writing this while adding a few winks-n-nods to Spenser’s past. I had been hoping that we’d get a James Bond Casino Royale style reboot for the series, but Atkins picks up where the last book left off yet still manages to signal that this Spenser reborn.

One tiny tidbit really caught my notice. Very early in the series, RBP had Spenser doing wood carvings as a hobby, but just dropped that with no explanation. Atkins does a nice scene where Spenser is thinking deeply about the case when he notices an old half finished carving on a shelf that he hasn‘t touched in years. He dusts it off and begins working on it again. It was a nice little statement that Atkins is taking the series back to it’s roots without dumping Spenser‘s long history.

And I guess just trying to launch a new phase of a classic detective character wasn’t enough of a challenge for Atkins. He also works in a sly homage to the western True Grit in this. Spenser is helping a spirited young girl named Mattie find the murderer of a parent, and Susan is reading a Charles Portis novel at one point. Plus, there’s a recreation of one of the key scenes from the book and films with a Spenser and Hawk twist to it.

I’m impressed with what Atkins delivered here and excited to see where he takes it next. Spenser appears to be in very good hands.

Next up: Spenser doesn't have much fun even though the case involves an amusement park in Wonderland.

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