Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Review: Robert B. Parker's Bye Bye Baby

Robert B. Parker's Bye Bye Baby Robert B. Parker's Bye Bye Baby by Ace Atkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy of this from NetGalley for review.

This is a real good news/bad news situation. The good news is that this is probably the best Spenser book that Ace Atkins has written yet. The bad news is that it’s the last one he’s doing. *sigh* Let’s focus on the good news for the moment.

Carolina Garcia-Ramirez won a stunning upset in a Congressional race, but while her outspoken support of progressive policies has made her a new hero for the left, the right wingers hate her guts and aren’t shy about saying so. When some of the threats seem to be more serious than the typical social media bile, Spenser is hired to provide protection and do some sleuthing to see if someone in CGR’s inner circle might be a mole. It doesn’t take long before Spenser finds clues indicating that a white supremacy group is plotting against CGR. As usual, Spenser turns to Hawk for help, but this time Hawk has a favor to ask in return. He wants Spenser to track down a woman he hasn’t heard from in years.

So obviously this one was inspired by a real person and the reactions to her, and that’s a little tricky because Spenser has always been extremely apolitical. That hasn’t changed with Atkins writing it so that while Spenser admires CGR for several reasons, that’s on a human level, not a political one. Spenser also won’t abide racism so making the bad guys a bunch of white power assholes means that this is still a straightforward good guy vs. bad guys story with a few ripped-from-the-headlines elements instead of the book feeling like a political manifesto even as Atkins uses the opportunity to highlight how the worst of the worst have felt free to really be themselves these days.

All of that made for a compelling plot, but where this one really crackles is with the very Spenser-ness of it all. The dialogue and banter is quick, clever, and frequently funny. The action is sharp, especially in a climatic scene. Some Spenser history comes up. Some delicious sounding food is consumed, and some booze gets drank. There’s still dates with Susan, work-outs with Hawk, and a dog named Pearl.

The Hawk sub-plot of him asking Spenser to find a woman was an interesting wrinkle in all this. Atkins had cracked the door open a little on Hawk. Not so much that it gave away too much about a character, who is cool precisely because of the mystery about him, but just enough that it made him feel fresh and even a little more dangerous. What comes out of that is another piece to a great book.

Maybe it’s because I knew that this was the last Spenser that Atkins is doing, but it all seemed extra sharp to me this time. I hated to finish this one because it meant that something I’ve very much enjoyed for ten years now is coming to an end. As swan songs go, this is a great one, and hopefully whoever takes over Spenser next can do half as well.

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