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Robert B. Parker's Kickback: A Spenser Novel


Robert B. Parker's Kickback: A Spenser Novel

The legend of Spenser continues, thanks to Ace Atkins. Although Robert B. Parker, Spenser’s creator, regretfully passed away in 2010 and remains deeply missed, Atkins has proudly carried the torch, working a miracle on an annual basis by channeling Parker’s style while carefully nudging his iconic character forward. The result is a continuation of the series that pleases longtime fans while bringing new ones into the fold.

KICKBACK ultimately takes Spenser out of (though not far from) Boston, but begins within the confines of his very familiar office. Read the first paragraph --- that would be the one after the short prologue --- and you won’t stop: there are no explosions or karate, but those few lines, wherein Spenser meets a new client, encapsulates perfectly what has gone before in over 40 installments. If you’ve ever been tempted to write a novel, take this paragraph and post it above your work area as an example of clean and simple, yet exquisite, writing that tugs the reader gently but relentlessly into the story.

"If you are new to mystery fiction and just discovering Spenser, or possibly have been away from the series for a bit, now is the time to jump on. Atkins just seems to be warming up."

The story, as relayed by the client to Spenser, is a sad one. Sheila Yates’ son, Dillon, has been sentenced to a term of nine months by the state of Massachusetts and incarcerated in a private juvenile facility. What is noteworthy is that Dillon earned this sentence as the result of...a Twitter account. Rita Fiore, Spenser’s favorite attorney, is on the job trying to get him released. What Sheila wants Spenser to find out is the how behind it all. Ground Zero for that appears to be a black-robed figure with the title of Judge Joe Scali, who runs the legal system of the small town of Blackburn, Massachusetts, with an iron fist and a steel gavel. Scali has everyone from the local prosecutor to the court reporter under his control, and he is just enough below the radar that he functions with impunity.

Spenser begins nosing around a bit, but enough so that he attracts the attention of some toughs both anonymous and official. Susan Silverman, Spenser’s eternal love interest and steadfast rock, is there for advice and counsel --- not to mention quiet worry --- and when it becomes clear to Spenser that this is not a solo project, he brings in the redoubtable Hawk as well. Like Spenser, Hawk is beginning to age a bit. He uses his assortment of unofficial and below-the-radar street contacts to assist Spenser in determining why Scali is doing what he’s doing.

Although the obvious can be figured out early on, part of the enjoyment of KICKBACK is watching Spenser, at first alone and then with Hawk, follow the trail that connects Scali to an isolated and desolate juvenile institution on Fortune Island in an attempt to recover Dillon and maybe a couple of other lost souls along the way. There are clocks ticking aside from the obvious one, so there is plenty of suspense to be found here...and beyond.

Yes, I said “beyond.” Spenser and Hawk make some dangerous people very angry, and the book’s conclusion indicates that a particular set of circumstances may spill over into at least the next installment. To his credit, Atkins has been incrementally dealing with the issue of Spenser’s age and gradual physical deterioration, and it will be interesting to see how things play out --- and possibly wind down --- as the series progresses on Atkins’ very able watch. If you are new to mystery fiction and just discovering Spenser, or possibly have been away from the series for a bit, now is the time to jump on. Atkins just seems to be warming up.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 20, 2015

Robert B. Parker's Kickback: A Spenser Novel
by Ace Atkins

  • Publication Date: May 3, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 0425278875
  • ISBN-13: 9780425278871