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Robert B. Parker's Slow Burn: A Spenser Novel


Robert B. Parker's Slow Burn: A Spenser Novel

SLOW BURN is a pivotal novel in the Spenser canon. Creator Robert B. Parker knew how to walk a very precise fine line between growing the character and keeping him true to himself, a (rare) talent that Ace Atkins, who has earned the reins and spurs to continue the series, has in spades as well. Some of the changes are subtle, and we’ll discuss those in a moment. Others (one comes to mind in particular) impact like a sledgehammer, and I won’t give them away. Still others are left to play out in a book or two, but the hints, and thunders, portend changes for the series.

There is a mystery at the heart of SLOW BURN, the solution to which is revealed by Atkins to the reader fairly early on. Accordingly we get to watch Spenser, with Hawk, his brother in arms, and Sixkill, his apprentice of sorts, play catch-up as they chase an arsonist. Spenser is retained by Jack McGee, an old friend of his who is a firefighter. A fire a year before destroyed an abandoned church and claimed the lives of three firemen. A ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the tragedy is scheduled, but McGee is convinced that the incident was the result of arson and is happy to tell anyone and everyone what he thinks, and why.

"Parker brought a very distinctive style and tone to these novels. Atkins doesn’t follow it; I swear that he channels it.... You might consider this blasphemy...but the Spenser series in Atkins’ hands is as good as it ever was."

Meanwhile, fires in abandoned buildings continue throughout the city of Boston. Spenser does what he does best, going around asking questions and irritating the right people enough that he begins unearthing clues. In the course of events, he also irritates some of the wrong people, including a recently acquired enemy --- Jackie DeMarco, introduced in 2015’s KICKBACK --- who has a score to settle with him. Never one to back down, Spenser can’t resist poking this particular lion through the bars. It might be a mistake, and while SLOW BURN has a definite beginning, middle and ending, there is a slow burn, all right, that will smolder right into the next installment or two of this iconic, indispensable series.

Through all of this, Atkins stays ever so true to Parker’s iconic character, who is anything but static. Spenser is aging, and Boston, which is so much a part of what he is and what he does, is also changing. Those changes are not limited to those wrought by gentrification; they include the criminal element as well, which is becoming a bit wilder and more dangerous. The latter occurs just as it is becoming questionable as to whether Spenser will be able to walk away wholly intact from the violent and dangerous encounters that he so often initiates in pursuit of the truth.

Atkins brings all of these subtle changes to bear while staying true to Parker’s voice. That cannot be overstated. Parker brought a very distinctive style and tone to these novels. Atkins doesn’t follow it; I swear that he channels it. He most certainly has his own voice and style (reference his terrific Quinn Colson series as an example), but he leaves that in another corner of the room when he writes Spenser. It’s almost scary to witness how well he does it. Atkins gets the dialogue, the relationships, the attitude that Parker infused into Spenser --- it’s as if the man never left. He also knows the canon, bringing an occasional but always respectful nod and a wink to some of the secondary plotting and personality elements that have made these books what they are.

You might consider this blasphemy --- heck, maybe it is --- but the Spenser series in Atkins’ hands is as good as it ever was. Longtime fans should come home if they haven’t already. Newcomers, jump on now with SLOW BURN and then go straight to the considerable and wonderful backlist.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 6, 2016

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

  • Publication Date: May 2, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 0425283194
  • ISBN-13: 9780425283196