Friday, April 20, 2018

Review: Robert B. Parker's Old Black Magic

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

I received a free advance copy from NetGalley for review.

I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like. And I like books by Ace Atkins.

Spenser is asked to look into a famous unsolved art heist, but since it occurred twenty years ago the trail is very cold and the museum people he’d be working for are couple of overbearing snobs guaranteed to be a pain in the ass. The only reasons to take the case are a five million dollar reward for the return of one particular painting, and that Spenser has been asked to finish the job by another private investigator who is dying from cancer. Spenser greatly respects this detective who spent years trying to track down the lost art, and if you know anything about spenser you can probably guess that he cares a lot more about fulfilling this guy’s last request than the money.

While the heist was successful it was the work of clumsy smash-and-grab thieves, not a highly skilled Ocean’s 11 kind of crew, and there are rumors that the painting has been floating around Boston’s organized crime underworld for two decades. As Spenser looks for the long lost Gentlemen in Black he’ll find that the painting has left a bloody trail in its wake since it was taken off a museum wall. He’s also got competition in the form of another unscrupulous investigator trying to get the reward.

This is the seventh Spenser novel that Ace Atkins has done since taking over the series after the death of Robert B. Parker, and Atkins has long since proven that the he was the right writer for the job. He still has Spenser behaving very much like the guy fans have known and loved for years with the detective trying to solve the case while cracking wise as well as cracking heads, and there is plenty of eating and drinking and general banter along the way. Atkins has kept all those familiar elements while subtly refreshing the series by not being afraid to incorporate some changes in the lives of Spenser and his supporting cast.

Most of that updating this time comes in the form of Vinnie Morris. Vinnie has long been one of Spenser’s ‘good’ criminals who is an occasional ally, and as he’s done for others in the series Atkins adds some depth and personality that makes Vinnie more of a unique character than just another version of Spenser with a few differing surface traits. While Hawk is off in South America on one of his secret missions (And I really want a spin-off series about Hawk’s adventures.) Vinnie more than fills the role of Spenser’s back-up buddy here. Atkins also now has the confidence to add some Southern touches with Spenser making his versions of a few country style dishes as well as taking a trip to Memphis where he gets some barbecue and works in a few Elvis references along the way.

The story was obviously inspired by the real heist of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990, and it’s a juicy concept of a case with plenty of good twists and turns. We also get a lot of fun interactions of Spenser irritating all kinds of unpleasant people from an angry police captain to a murderous mobster to a snooty stuffed shirt on the museum board. Overall, it’s another remarkably solid outing that most fans of Spenser and PI novels in general would enjoy.

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