Jack McGee is a Boston fire-fighter, who’s lost his best friend and two other colleagues in a fire at an abandoned church in the South End. McGee’s convinced it was arson, but the department and the police have found no evidence and are not pursuing it. So he asks Spenser to look into it. Spenser begins nosing around, and his nosing leads him to arson and to an old enemy, Jackie DeMarco. Spenser had an accomodation with Jackie’s father, but the new generation doesn’t have no respect, as we say.
Ace Atkins is the best of all the writers who have tried to extend Robert B Parker’s characters, and you would think in many ways that Spenser would be the toughest of his acts to follow. Atkins is a good enough writer to be able to capture Spenser’s tone, and Parker’s ability to set scenes and delineate characters crisply, without hewing slavishly to the formula. In fact, what makes Slow Burn interesting is that Atkins adds narration from one of the arsonists, so the reader knows the DeMarco plot is a dead end, a possible literal dead end for Spenser, while allowing him to break the case in other ways. And interestingly, the denouement takes place with Spenser slightly-off stage, although the stage has also been set for a massive confrontation, with Atkins hinting at Spenser’s eventual need to reassemble his crew for a shootout, which has happened before. Atkins also sets the stage for Spenser and Susan to actually try living together again, though it takes the arsonsists to actually bring that possibility into play. Don’t try this at home, kids.
This strikes me as the best of all the Parker pastiches yet, but I have two quibbles. The first is minor, when Parker is cutting Susan’s lawn and ‘starts’ her push mower. Push mowers don’t have engines to start, unless this is a southern thing for Ace, and a push mower is the opposite of a riding mower, even if it is what Spenser would call a power mower. Southerners call tea ‘hot tea’ too. Actually I also wondered if a guy of Spenser’s vintage would be calling firemen ‘fire-fighters’, or more importantly, because we know Spenser can be educated, whether some of his associates would.
More crucially, at one point Spenser was on a stake out, and to kill time “mentally catalogued the great fighters from Massachusetts. I started with Marvin Hagler, Rocky Marciano, and worked my way back to John L Sullivan. I had not forgotten Wllie Pep. If I’d started with the best I might’ve started with Pep.’ As If, Ace! Willie Pep may well be the best of those fighters, but he damn well wasn’t from Massachusetts! Pep is the pride of Connecticut, born in Middletown, lived in Hartford, died in Rocky Hill. Spenser would know that.
Robert B. Parker’s Slow Burn by Ace Atkins
No Exit Press £7.99 ISBN 9781843448730
NOTE: This review appeared first at Michael Carlson’s Irresistible Targets (http://irresistibletargets.blogspot.com)