LULLABY by Robert B. Parker and Ace Atkins
When I lost Robert B. Parker in 2010 shortly after meeting him for the first time at a book signing down in Dallas, I didn’t know what to think. Well, actually I did. I’ve been reading the Spenser series since 1978 when I got Promised Land from the Mystery Book Club. That single book hooked me. I went out and found the previous three, then ordered each of them as they came out.
So when Sixkill came out in 2011, I thought that was it. In some ways, it felt good to put an end to a series I’d been following for thirty-three years. But losing Spenser was like losing an old friend. During my formative years as a young man, my father wasn’t around much. I learned a lot about who I wanted to be by reading detective fiction about sleuths that had codes of honor. Spenser was the capstone of that education of self. However, I’m old enough to know that good students never stop learning.
Then I heard that Ace Atkins, whose work I’d been aware of, was going to take over the series. I was a complete doubter. What I’d seen from Atkins in no way suggested he could write the adventures of a Boston private detective.
So I waited over a year before reading the book with a lot of reluctance. It was almost like a betrayal of sorts, but so was not acknowledging that Spenser still lived in some fashion.
I sat down with the book and was amazed at how closely Atkins was able to build the same kind of Parker narrative, about the same kind of Parker plots, still yet with an idea toward promoting a line of thought for the individual.
Atkins’s plot, about fourteen year old Mattie Sullivan looking for her mother’s killer, smacks so closely of Paul Giacomin in Early Autumn that Atkins has Spenser ruminating about that fact in the novel. Atkins plays it safe in this book. Every page seems to echo another book, another plot, another line of thinking that Spenser has already been down.
There’s nothing really new in this book. Some would say that’s a problem, but I don’t. This was supposed to feel like Spenser, and it does. Parker had settled into a comfortable groove writing these novels, and it seems like Atkins is going to do the same.
For a while. Because we also get warning shot fired across our bows that things are going to change as well. Some big changes take place in this book, and I’m not going to mention what they are because that would spoil the pleasure for long-time readers.
Atkins is working within Parker’s established world for Spenser, but he’s widening the focus. Lullaby does that a lot, as well as cameoing the touchstones of the series. But I’m especially excited to see what Atkins does with the next book, Wonderland, when it brings Henry Cimoli out on center stage for a while. Cimoli has always been good for color, for a laugh, and for some grounding on Spenser’s past. But he’s never been the focus. This will be interesting.