Friday, May 27, 2016

Slow Burn

Today, I am taking part in the Cephalopod Coffeehouse—an online gathering of book-loving bloggers—hosted by the Armchair Squid.

It takes place the last Friday of every month, and the concept is simple: just share the best book you've finished over the past month and visit other bloggers to see their selections. I love this bloghop because I always end the day with a brand new list of books that I want to read.

It's been a while since I've done one of these posts (Thanks, Life!), and when I signed up for this month, I honestly thought I'd be writing about a different novel today. I am going to write about that novel sometime next month, but as it turned out not to be the best novel I finished in the month of May, I'm writing about this one instead:

But first, a little history...

Back when I was in high school, and my sister was in college, we were introduced to a series of detective novels set in and around Boston. It was the Spenser series by Robert B. Parker, and told the story of a Boston-based private detective named Spenser. He was an ex-boxer and an ex-state cop, and could drop the most amazing literary references and/or witty one-liners like nobody's business. We were immediately hooked, and I spent a lot of time in every secondhand bookstore I could find searching for every last title I could get my hands on.

Robert B. Parker wrote forty Spenser novels in total (along with many other titles) before he passed away (at his desk) in 2010. His last Spenser novel, Sixkill, was published posthumously in 2011, and really, I thought it had the perfect last line, if this was to be the last Spenser novel.

But it turns out, it wasn't the last novel. The owners of Parker's estate decided to continue on the series with the help of author Ace Atkins. When I first heard this news, I was beset by mixed feelings. First there was, "Yay! Spenser lives to love and fight and cook another day!" And then there was, "Oh, but...Robert B. Parker won't be writing it. How will anyone else be able to do it successfully?"

I'm assuming here that I was not the only one to have these concerns. And I can't imagine what it was like for Mr. Atkins to take on this challenge. Or any author who takes on a challenge such as this. For example, there were two other series that the Parker estate moved forward with—the Jesse Stone series, and the Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch westerns—and while I haven't read any of the westerns with their new author, I stopped reading the Jesse Stone books altogether because they just weren't the same, and I felt like there was too big a gap there for me to want to cross. All of a sudden, the character wasn't the same guy I'd grown to love in the other nine books.

So how does an author do that? Take beloved characters from an established and beloved series and continue the stories without completely alienating a fan base? I imagine it's one of the hardest things to do in writing. I don't know that I could ever do it.

(Hmmm. Maybe I should have said a lot of history...I'm getting to the point soon, I promise! I'll try to speed things up.)

But anyway, I'm digressing.

So, Ace Atkins's first Spenser novel, Lullaby, was released in 2012, and it was with trepidation that I purchased a copy and read it. But I needn't had worried. The transition between authors felt nearly seamless to me. The rhythm was right; the dialogue was right—the character was right. I could have been reading a novel written by Parker himself, and I was so relieved to have that be the case. There were moments that felt like Atkins was trying too hard to cram recurring Spenser-verse characters into the story (like he was trying to impress the reader by saying, 'Look! I know all these characters!' or something), but I didn't mind because the rest was so good.

And now you may be asking yourself why I'm reviewing a book I read four years ago and not the one I showed you the cover for at the beginning of this post, but I'm getting to it, I promise.

I'll do it right now, even:

This is the fifth Ace Atkins's Spenser novel, and I think he's really settling into it. I didn't think this mystery was as good as Lullaby, but it was still a good read. There were moments that felt too over the top, especially toward the end, and one Oh-No! moment that made my jaw drop. The endless parade of recurring characters was reined in nicely (though, c'mon, would it kill you to at least mention Paul Giacomin once in a while?), and my favorite character Hawk put in an appearance. Susan Silverman, sadly, had a bunch of scenes in this novel (For long-time fans of the series, you may think that last statement is odd and, perhaps, blasphemous, but I haven't been a Susan Silverman fan since Valediction. And don't even get me started on A Catskill Eagle. Grrr.) and I always prefer it when she's more on the peripheral instead of more featured, but I get that the story kind of required that.

I don't know how many more Spenser novels there may be, but I'm curious where Atkins will take the story next. And when I want to read the next book in a series the very second I finish with the last, you know you've done something right.

Which sounds egotistical, doesn't it? Like I'm suggesting that I'm somehow the be-all, end-all when it comes to determining what makes a book good. And of course I'm not, but in my last book review post, I did rant a lot about a certain pair of books, but I'm not ranting today. Slow Burn just makes me smile.

Thanks for stopping by, everyone! And for all my friends in the U.S., have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend!


  1. I should pick some of those books up. I love a good mystery and hey...Boston, it's practically my home town :)

    1. Oh yeah, when I was still in New England, I loved going on the Spenser tour of Boston. You know, standing on certain street corners going, "This is where Spenser lives! And here's his office! And here's where he made that really funny joke about Squanto!"

      In the Early Autumn, Spenser goes to Maine (Fryeburg). Which is not why it's one of my all-time favorites, but certainly doesn't hurt. :)

    2. At some point today. Or possibly yesterday. It's a blur, sir. Anyway, I was remembering that moment in my college English class when we read the line about Squanto having made a mistake. And I burst out laughing. And was the only one to do so. And had to explain to a pack of Midwestern 18 year olds who Squanto was.

  2. That's amazing that another author could pick up where the original started. Kudos to him. And all that's important in a book is if it appeals to you.

  3. I always feel a little weird about another author carrying on series after the original author dies. But I guess if people want the books, then it's worth doing.

  4. If Stephen King had died before finishing THE DARK TOWER series I doubt I would have continued reading. Hard to trust another author to do well with established characters.

  5. How great that your beloved series lives on.

  6. Awesome! I too loved books that were picked up by other authors--VC Andrews and Carolyn Keene books were big hits for me as a girl/woman. It's always awesome to have an excellent series, I think. I live for the next many ways.
    Thanks for sharing!

  7. What a neat blog hop! Though, of course, my TBR list is already longer than my life is likely to be. Need to get to work on that immortality serum again. If only I knew actual science and not just science fiction . . .

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

  8. Yay! I'm very happy that they chose the right author to continue the series. It sounds like a series I should check out.