Right off the bat, I will pay Ace Atkins my greatest possible compliment regarding LULLABY: I forgot that I was reading an Ace Atkins novel. Fans of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser mysteries have been holding their collective breath since the announcement that Atkins would continue the iconic series following Parker’s sudden passing. His first chronicle of Spenser is everything that readers could reasonably want and expect.
"If you had any doubts about Atkins’ ability to continue the Spenser franchise, all should be removed within the first few pages of the book. It reads like nothing less than an unpublished manuscript from Parker himself."
Atkins has been very clear that he was not going to tinker with the Spenser universe, and he has kept that promise. From its first paragraph (reproduced on the back cover, for your browsing ease and pleasure), LULLABY establishes the familiar rhythm that we have come to expect over the course of almost 40 years. It also nicely introduces the character for the uninitiated; it is easy to forget that readers who picked up THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT in 1973 could easily have grandchildren who are just becoming acquainted with the franchise.
In any event, LULLABY is pure Spenser. He has just completed a case and has been well-compensated for it, when a 14-year-old girl enters his office. Her name is Mattie Sullivan, and she wants Spenser to investigate her mother’s murder, which occurred four years previously. Even though a suspect was identified, tried and convicted of the crime, Mattie insists that the man is innocent and that she knows who really killed her mother. It is not a promising beginning, but Spenser sees something in Mattie that reminds him of himself. He takes the case (the manner in which Spenser’s fee is broached, negotiated and agreed upon is worth the price of admission to the book all by itself) and begins investigating.
Things don’t look good at all. The police file indicates an open-and-shut investigation, but, as Spenser notes, it doesn’t appear that detectives did much detecting. Spenser continues to nose around, and when he gets some rather pointed pushback, with some of it directed toward Mattie, he figures that he is on the right track. That track takes him back into his own past, where some unsettled scores await him and the capable and competent Hawk. It turns out that Hawk identifies with Mattie as well, perhaps even more so than Spenser does, and the result is an interesting and --- dare I say --- heartwarming chemistry. Speaking of chemistry, Susan Silverman is present as well, without a hair out of place, striking a nice balance between concern for Spenser and an understanding of who and what he is.
Sprinkled throughout the narrative is Spenser’s trademark repartee aimed at all he encounters, be they friend or foe. The dialogue in the Spenser novels is arguably the most popular element of the books, and Atkins captures the wit and cadence of Parker’s creation perfectly. I was howling by the eighth page, but I also had a tear or two in my eyes, in equal parts from laughing and from the wonder of it all.
If you had any doubts about Atkins’ ability to continue the Spenser franchise, all should be removed within the first few pages of the book. It reads like nothing less than an unpublished manuscript from Parker himself. Rather than relaunching the series, Atkins has taken the better and much harder road, capturing Parker’s style and voice while giving Spenser continuing, rather than new or renewed, life. The result is a pitch-perfect LULLABY for fans old and new.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 4, 2012