Ace Atkins as Robert Parker

Reading Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels is a guilty pleasure. The Boston and Cambridge locales are spot on, the dialog is snappy, and most of the plots are entertaining.

Or perhaps I should say it was a guilty pleasure, as Parker died five years ago. His fans, of course, wanted more.

What to do? Clearly his estate would be happy to make some additional memory, keep his fans happy, and maintain Parker in the public eye by adopting what some other authors’s estates have done: pick another author to “continue” the novels. I put “continue” in scare quotes because it can’t really be done. The replacement author can keep the characters, keep the settings, and develop similar plots, but it’s never the same. In Parker’s case the estate selected Ace Atkins to continue the Parker books (I believe they picked other authors for other series), and he has produced some novels that are workmanlike, even competent. But it’s not Parker. The characters no longer seem alive. They seem to be following a formula…which I suppose is almost inevitable in these situations. The dialog feels like a retread. The settings are almost right, but little details are disturbingly incorrect: a street is in the wrong location, a traffic law is from another state, judges are elected instead of appointed. This last error is from Kickback, which struck me as having an implausible plot until I heard an item on the news — as I was finishing the novel! — with a similar plot twist: a judge who sends teenagers to privately owned jails for minor offenses so that he can get a kickback from the jails’ owners. Implausible…but apparently not so!

Categories: Books, Dorchester/Boston