Pop quiz: which of the following qualifies as a reasonable favor for a friend? A) Bumming a ride to the airport. B) Helping move furniture into storage. C) Picking up the lunch tab. D) Going head to head with a megalomaniacal Las Vegas billionaire hell-bent on bringing a casino to Boston.
If you answered D, your name is Spenser, and you are one of the toughest and most memorable fictional PIs of the last three decades. Originally created by the late great Robert B. Parker, Spenser is now in the capable hands of Ace Atkins, who would be on my short list for the best crime fiction novelist still among the living.
In Wonderland, Henry Cimoli, an old boxing buddy of Spenser’s, is offered a buyout on his beloved condo in Revere Beach to make way for a casino. When Henry refuses, thugs are sent to expedite the process. Enter Spenser and his new apprentice Zebulon Sixkill, a six and a half foot Native American first introduced in The Professionals. From there, things get political, and violent, and the familiar hard-boiled themes bubble to the surface: greed, greed, and more greed. But Spenser, never one to back down no matter the odds, digs his heels in and tries to make things right for his friend…and the greater good.
What is so satisfying about Wonderland is the ease with which Atkins captures nearly every aspect of the Spenser series. Rapid fire dialogue? Check. Descriptions of Boston settings? Check. Fantastic fight scenes? Check. Atkins has not only Spenser’s character down pat, but all the series regulars, too: Susan, the beautiful intellectual who can trade barbs with Spenser all day, and Hawk, the deeply dangerous backup man. The addition of Zebulon Sixkill (called Z) gives Spenser a sidekick, which adds another satisfying layer to the series.
Pop quiz: would I happily read more of these Spenser novels as penned by Ace Atkins? A) yes B) yes C) yes D) hell yes