Robert B. Parker’s Old Black Magic by Ace Atkins

Recommended for: Parker fans
Read May 2020
★   ★   ★   

Akins has taken over Parker’s Spenser series and honestly, has probably surpassed the final decade of books that Parker himself was able to push out. Still, reading the merging of such a long-running (1973, people!) series into the style of a new author is interesting, with both things that improve, and that detract. I suppose I could view it as just another kind of writer’s evolution.

In this edition, a dying private eye begs Spenser to take the Unfinished Case, a 60 million dollar painting that was stolen twenty years, along with two other lesser ones. There happens to be a five million dollar reward for its return, but no one was interested, until a month ago, when the museum’s board started receiving letters hinting that it could be exchanged for a larger sum. Spenser agrees, despite the antagonism of the head of the board and the mercurial museum director (who can resist a dying man?).

There’s a lot of stuff I enjoyed here. The writing feels mid-series; not quite as elaborate and verbose as the first volumes, but not the screen-play writing of Parker’s final decade. There’s working out at Henry’s gym, lunch with Susan, walks with Pearl, and its interesting to see those included and updated enough to make them feel organic, but less dated. Henry, for instance, has ditched the Pilates and gone back to the old weight-lifting gym with a bit of Cross-fit space. Susan apparently eats, although Spenser notes she’s juicing, so he can only find wilted vegetables in her fridge. Kudos, I suppose, to Atkins, for managing to make her as annoying as always. There are also guest appearances by Quirk and Belson. Vinnie felt the most off to me, but perhaps I could put that down to missing some volumes.

Where it seems to be the most different is the widely convoluted plotting. Spenser has mostly always been of the “annoy the principles until I get attacked” school of detecting, and he’s sort of doing that here. However, everyone is keeping back information. Also, when you think about it, he’s working a case of a sixty million dollar painting. It’s more than a little odd to think he’s going to bring something very new to the table besides doggedness and connections. Vinnie ends up being the deux ex machina here, despite not wanting to be inovlved at first, and… well, whatever. The thing is, you aren’t supposed to think too hard about Spenser cases. You are supposed to read quickly, enjoy and dispose. When Atkins starts asking us to think harder, it starts pulling at the rug that underlies all of Spenser. Just not sure we’re supposed to go there.

The ending itself was mildly dissatisfying, a sort-of-resolution that ended up leaving me with even more questions today, and that definitely isn’t Parker. I think I’d have to take down a full half star for that, because it breaks a couple of Parker’s rules, particularly ones on bad deeds getting just rewards.  So. Wouldn’t rule out another, but I’m good for awhile.


About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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3 Responses to Robert B. Parker’s Old Black Magic by Ace Atkins

  1. gehmeyr says:

    Parker might be long running, but I give you his grandmother: Perry Rhodan, a continuous SF series which started in 1961, and has got one volume per week since then and still running. It’s around number 3067 right now. What a beast 🙂

    • thebookgator says:

      Oh goodness! Never heard of it. Nancy Drew, however, has also been quite long running. I admit I was disappointed to find out the series had more than one author (my first obsessive attempt at collection when I was a child…)

      • gehmeyr says:

        Well, it’s German, no wonder you haven’t heard of it (I think there were a couple hundreds of that series published in English, but that was discontinued). That is a cultural movement – huge fandom with die hard fans (and their sons and grandchildren), cultural research around it etc.

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