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Atkins gives Robert B. Parker's long-running series one of its best installments to date.
on May 12, 2014
After assuming the reins of the iconic Spenser canon, Ace Atkins didn't just breathe new life into the already healthy franchise; he has performed the seemingly impossible task of growing it. True to his practice of exceeding his own standards with each new novel, Atkins gives Robert B. Parker's long-running series one of its best installments to date with the newly published CHEAP SHOT.
One of the many points of Boston’s pride is its professional sports teams, and CHEAP SHOT focuses on football. Atkins knows of which he speaks, giving the book a definite air of knowledgeable authenticity. Spenser is initially retained by the sports agent of Kinjo Heywood, a star linebacker of the New England Patriots. Kinjo reportedly has been stalked and harassed by some unknown subjects, and Spenser is tasked with finding out the who and the why behind it. He isn’t entirely sure if Kinjo is overreacting to the adoration of some overreaching fans, or if some blowback from a shooting incident in New York in which Kinjo was allegedly involved may be coming back to haunt him.
Then there is Kinjo’s ex, who isn’t happy at all about his current wife. For someone as popular and wealthy as he is, Kinjo should be a lot happier. In fact, it appears that his only true joy is Akira, his nine-year-old son. So when Akira is suddenly kidnapped, Kinjo’s entire world slips loose of its moorings.
Nobody, from Kinjo’s agent to the NFL to the FBI, wants Spenser within a hundred miles of the case --- nobody, that is, except Kinjo, who respects Spenser’s no-nonsense approach to getting things done and his willingness to tell things as they are. Spenser begins following a complicated trail, one that diverges into false dead-ends and parts of Boston where the tourist buses don’t run, all the while racing against time and fully aware that the ending may be a heartbreaking one. Kinjo ups the ante with an impulsive move that all but jeopardizes his son’s safety.
Still, as one might hope and expect, Spenser remains dogged in pursuing the all-but-invisible trail to Akira. He is aided in his hunt by the chillingly competent Hawk and his recently introduced protege, Zebulon “Z” Sixkill. Z, by the way, comes into his own during CHEAP SHOT, on matters of both investigation and heavy lifting. I had my doubts about the addition of Z to the Spenser mix, but Atkins somehow pulls off the trick of bringing Spenser, Hawk and Z into scene after scene without things getting too crowded or pushing Spenser out of his own book. That’s fine work, indeed.
I wasn’t quite sure how CHEAP SHOT was going to end. That might seem academic, particularly for a mystery novel, but it’s hard to pull off. Atkins does. Like Parker before him, he isn’t afraid to give the reader a tragic ending, and you have to get almost to the end of the book before you learn if Spenser’s pursuit ends in triumph or tragedy. Or, perhaps, a bit of both.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub.