Maybe the greatest compliment that I can give Ace Atkins is that “Lullaby,” his debut taking over the reigns of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser crime novel series, reads link vintage Parker.
Parker had been turning out books featuring Spenser, the boxer-turned-private-eye, since the Vietnam War and straight up until his death in January 2010. Parker told stories about Spenser, his longtime girlfriend Susan Silverman and Spenser’s dangerous cohort Hawk in a relaxed but muscular style that mixed hard-boiled action, genuinely funny witticisms and relaxed, likable characters.
Atkins — one of two writers taking over a couple of Parker series — is an accomplished author on his own. He’s written a series of crime novels that take place in the steamy modern-day south.
With “Robert B. Parker’s ‘Lullaby,'” Atkins has continued the Spenser series with all of the wit and a little more effort than Parker was putting into the books at the end.
Spenser is hired by Mattie, a tough Boston 14-year-old whose drug addict mother was killed four years ago. A neighborhood mook is serving time in prison for the murder but Mattie — hardened beyond her years and raising her younger siblings with no help from an alcoholic grandmother — is convinced that someone else killed her mother. She saw some goons push her mother into a car a few hours before her death.
With Mattie frequently insisting on tagging along, Spenser and Hawk shake down the Boston underworld, top to bottom, looking for the real killers. The good guys take their lumps but there’s little doubt of the outcome.
Most of the Spenser supporting cast is here, from cops Quirk and Belson to loyal hoodlum Vinnie, even gym owner Henry and Pearl the Wonder Dog.
Atkins gets it right when it comes to Parker’s portrayal of Spenser’s style: The PI pushes and pushes and waits for some lowlife to come unglued.
I’m very glad the Parker estate chose Atkins to continue the Spenser series. In just his first outing, he’s found the style that Parker fans have appreciated for decades. And he just might have improved on recent Parker outings.