by Sharon Tucker
Art begins in imitation and ends in innovation. —Mason Cooley
Although I liked Robert Urich in Spenser for Hire, he never really seemed like the Spenser I read in Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels. His touch was too light. And Lifetime TV’s attempt at Spenser movies still starring the likable Urich were bland palimpsests of the books. No. The real Spenser was in the pages Parker wrote, and I have my doubts anyone could embody him with justice. Spenser’s stream-of-consciousness, first-person narratives gave the reader inside information into what made an idealist like Spenser able to survive with his soul intact sorting out dark tangles beyond the rest of us. I was skeptical when the Parker estate found someone to continue writing new Spenser novels but am delighted they found Ace Atkins. He understood Parker’s world and often sees the characters with a clearer eye than their creator. He was less idolatrous than Parker about Susan Silverman for one thing. For another, while psychological issues were still all over the place in the plots, his Dr. Silverman keeps the spoken analysis to a minimum enabling the counselee to talk their way through to finding the answers themselves. Atkins has eight Spenser novels to his credit (nine in January 2021), and the latest three, Little White Lies (2017), Old Black Magic (2017), and Angel Eyes (2019), prove that Parker’s shoes are an excellent fit for Atkins.
Considering the scope of what happens in Little White Lies the title is an understatement. Connie Kelly consults Spenser about the disappearance of a “perfect” man, M. Brook Welles, she met via an online dating service. She is distressed not only that he has disappeared but also that he took a lot of her money with him. It seems Kelly is only one in a line of investors whom Welles duped and left out of pocket. So, it doesn’t take Spenser long to trace him and his unsavory history of aliases. What Spenser, Hawk, and ally-of-old Teddy Sapp uncover involves multiple identities and scams concealed by the mantle of a surprising organization.
Stolen art capers are fascinating, especially twenty-year-old, unsolved ones. In Old Black Magic Spenser is intrigued when he is approached to open an investigation for the prestigious museum that was robbed. Dubious paint chips purporting to be from the most valuable of the paintings have turned up for authentication and a ransom demand issued for the first time since they were stolen. Something is off, but it’s a tossup which is worse, the travesty of a ransom payoff for the paintings he participates in or the heavy-handed warnings not to get involved he keeps getting from organized crime.
It would be an advantage to have read Parker’s last Spenser novel, Sixkill, (2011) before reading Angel Eyes since the former is where we meet Spenser’s friend and associate Zebulon Sixkill. Suffice it to say, if Spenser works with him, that’s good enough for me and here they do work together to locate a missing starlet lost in the wilds of Los Angeles. We have often read L.A. isn’t kind to people who follow their dreams there, and Gabby Leggett seems to have tried the usual roads to stardom with minimal success. Spenser and Sixkill learn she then disappeared into an organization whose standards are cultish, and members are anything but forthcoming. Throw in connections to the Armenian mob (a new one on me) and an untouchable movie producer, and the investigation goes off in so many directions it’s dizzying.
These are just good reads the way Parker’s Spensers are. Atkins considers advances in investigative techniques and the times while keeping in step with the characters and backstories we all know so well. I finished each one of them satisfied and looking forward to the next, but Someone to Watch Over Me due out in January of 2021 is a long time to wait. Fortunately, we have new books in his other series as well. Guess I’ll try my luck with them.
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