In a career that spanned nearly four decades, author Robert B. Parker created some of the most iconic and memorable characters in print. His passing in 2010 has left a legion of fans with a huge hole carved neatly in the center of their literary hearts. Like the author, the larger than life characters and snappy dialogue will never be replaced; so it’s easy to understand some reticence on the part of fans when new writers, interlopers to some, have been tasked with picking up the Parker mantle and continuing the legacy of his characters.
Perhaps the most difficult task was placed in the hands of Ace Atkins, who was given the challenge of carrying on Parker’s scar tissue laden, wisecracking P.I., Spenser. Since his introduction in 1974, Spenser has been a staple for many readers who have fallen into an almost fan-boy thrall with the tough guy character who haunts the streets of Boston. When TV came calling in the form of the short-lived series Spenser of Hire, I am certain most thought actor Robert Urich; “just wasn’t quite right” in the lead role. (Although Avery Brooks darn near embodied Hawk!) Later in the made for TV movie series, Joe Montagna wasn’t even close!
It is from that perspective that many fans approach Atkins continuation of the series. Not an enviable task. Since his passing, I have undertaken the Herculean task of re-collecting the Parker catalog, one book at a time in hardcover and along the way I have revisited many of the Spenser novels. And while I am still a diehard fan, I am honest enough to admit that some the later books in the series where not quite up to the level that I had come to expect from Robert B. Parker’s legendary status.
So it is from that perspective that I approached Atkins latest effort, Wonderland. While at the time of its release it escaped me, I started out by tracking down a copy of Atkins first Spenser outing Lullaby before diving into the new book. While Lullaby trod on familiar ground and with familiar characters, Wonderland looks to add depth and development to Parker’s last character creation Zebulon Sixkill. While I am certain that Parker had plans to carry on the Sixkill character as mentored by Spenser, this had to be the most difficult challenge for Atkins given the relative lack of detail on this new player in the mix. Like so many of Parker’s characters, there is a peeling back of the layers as new wrinkles are revealed in the Sixkill persona.
Has for the story in Wonderland, having witnessed firsthand the slimey underbelly of gambling enterprises and real estate dealings when gaming expanded in Pennsylvania, the story Atkins lays out rings true and Spenser finds himself right where he feels most comfortable; right in the middle of the action.
Is it Robert B. Parker good? No. but it is pretty darn good! And for the doubtless legion of doubters, I might remind them of Parker’s efforts to pick up where the equally legendary Raymond Chandler left off with Poodle Springs and Perchance to Dream, it isn’t an easy task to fill big shoes.