Robert B. Parker's Bye Bye Baby by Ace Atkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I've enjoyed all the Atkins Spensers. In each of my reviews, though, I always note that Atkins is doing an imitation of Parker. He usually gets about 80% of the way there, but you know it is not Parker's Spenser. In this, Atkins' tenth and last Spenser, I'm sad to say this was even more the case. It's helped me, I think, identify how Atkins' Spenser was falling short. There were several points through out the novel where something was off. The language or word choice of a character, in particular Spenser and Hawk, that didn't fit, or the characters reactions to a situation that struck the wrong note.
Since the plot of this is reminiscent to Looking For Rachel Wallace, one of Parker's best, I went back and reread parts of it (and now rereading the whole novel). This only made things worse for Atkins. First, Parker's language and description is so crisp, saying so much and so beautifully with an amazing economy. Second, Spenser's interactions with Rachel and how Parker deals with the controversial elements is far superior to Atkins treatment of Spenser and Carolina. Atkins too easily slips into cultural tropes and cliches. This aspect of the book just wasn't that interesting.
Two other things jumped out to me. First, Parker always emphasized Spenser's code; his autonomous core and steadfast integrity. Atkins rarely seems to make use of this, with a few throwaway comments to remind us of this. But with Parker: it was core to every Spenser story. Second, Atkins over uses Spenser the wise-ass. Parker was far more judicious with how he employs Spenser's sarcasm and humor. This gave it much more of an impact.
The overall sweep of the book is still enjoyable; I still love being back in that world. Atkins is a good writer. But the books are also a pale comparison to Parker. This is, as I noted above, Atkins last. Reportedly, Mike Lupica is picking up the Spenser line. He's written several Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall novels, so he's not new to the Spenser-verse. But I haven't read Lupica's stories so I don't know if he can take on Spenser (Plus he's a New Yorker?).
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