Henry Cimoli has known Hawk and Spenser for years. He has never once asked for a favor and certainly wouldn't now if he wasn't being squeezed. He might have even tolerated being squeezed a little bit, but, when three thugs showed up at his fourth floor condo things got serious. The thugs threatened to throw him out his own window if he didn’t shut up about not wanting to move. Somebody wants to buy the condo building for a project and hired thugs are now visiting the mostly elderly holdouts and making threats.
Even if Spenser didn't owe Henry whatever he asked he would look into things just because this sort of deal ticks him off. His initial goal is to stop the threats and to find out who the buyer is that wants the property. Once that is done, maybe some common sense will prevail, and then a fair price for all can be found. With Hawk out of town, Spenser enlists the aid of his protégé in training, Zebulon Sixkill, who also figures he owes Henry.
Before long things in the case start going sideways in Robert B. Parker's Wonderland: A Spenser Novel by Ace Atkins. Not just in the case, but in the book itself. Unfortunately, while all the familiar names and locations are present in this series and doing all the usual things one expects, the books no longer read like Spenser novels. As always the scenic descriptions and narration are very limited, the chapters are as short as ever, the witty (or not depending on your perspective) dialogue between Spenser and everyone else still exists--in fact every single character engages in witty repartee with every other character. All the usual elements are firmly in place and the tagline A Spenser Novel is still on the cover.
But, where it truly matters, in the hard to pin down and define it style of voice, the distinctive Spenser voice is now gone. It is not just because Sixkill plays a prominent role, or that Hawk never makes an appearance, or that Susan has been regulated to a cupboard above the stove (she doesn't even get a back burner role here to the ecstatic joy of many according to reviews seen elsewhere. This is a different and often harder edged Spenser in terms of thought and action.
On its own a harder edged Spenser is not necessarily a bad thing. But, that harder edge Spenser doesn’t go far enough when it happens and often flips back to a far weaker Spenser. Clearly author Ace Atkins had a nearly insurmountable task in taking over for the late Robert B. Parker to keep the series going. Every now and then one gets the sense that if he could take the hobbles off he would shove Spenser hard and fast in a new direction that could easily lose those who insist on Spenser never changing. At the same time, he is losing readers like me who recognize he is sitting on the fence with his version of Spenser.
Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland: A Spenser Novel
G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Group)
Hardback (also available as e-book and audio book)
Material supplied by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.
Kevin R. Tipple ©2013
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