Customer Reviews: Robert B. Parker's Cheap Shot (Spenser)
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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.
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VINE VOICEon May 6, 2014
The strength of the third Spenser effort by Atkins is that the author continues to demonstrate a strong feel for Parker's characters, Boston locales and story pacing. Cheap Shot features both Hawk and Zebulon Sixkill as part of the Spenser team as well as visits to Chestnut Hill, Charlestown and the Patriots facility at Foxboro. The action in this book is fairly straightforward as the Berkley Street Irregulars try to solve the kidnapping of a player's child before any harm can come to him. This impending peril creates more tension than in many of the other books in the series while also providing cover for the sometimes aggressive attention given by Spencer and company to suspects.

The only problem with Atkins' writing is embedded in this very strength. As he understandably tries to demonstrate to fans of the series that he can produce books similar to those of Robert Parker, the new author does not take chances with a formula that is starting to get a bit stale after almost 30 volumes. Even Parker varied his approach on occasion as in Spencer's pursuit of Susan Silverman in Catskill Eagle, alternating chapters from the serial killer's point of view in Crimson Joy and through the battles with the Grey Man. Now that Atkins has proved his command of this material, he can enrich the series with further character development. Even Ian Fleming began to show the effect of physical aging on his own legendary hero 10 books into the Bond series.

Overall, however, Atkins provides a great service to readers by bringing us new Spenser editions that could pass for books written by the series originator. He even extends in Cheap Shot the metaphor of private detective as Urban Knight, in this case comparing Spenser's crew to Ronin. In expressing his preference for his hired team to the State Police or FBI, the client explains, "Y'all are samurai with no master, doing what's got to be done. Roaming the earth, taking care of business, without any rules." Spencer's only demurral is to add, "Mostly greater Boston. And I have rules."
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VINE VOICEon May 17, 2014
I am always excited to read a new "Spenser" novel, and have enjoyed the previous entries by Ace Atkins, and though this one opened with such promise, by the time I plodded to the end, I found it, for me, to be the worst Ace Atkins' "Parker" novel for sure.
I will not go into the plot summary as others will do that, and I do not think I could adequately do that without revealing I will not. As my title to this article suggests, I found that reading this was like plodding through War and Peace...for all the negative reasons. It makes me think Atkins was using Parker's style of writing novel ,starting with a premise, and daily write the story, not sure where you are going or who "dunnit" until you get there. The only problem is that the logical place where this book would turn towards its' conclusion (but look like another Parker novel) kept going, and going, and going. I think Atkins might have been paid per character as he kept introducing new and returning characters up until the final chapters, where finally he introduced us to one of the criminals.
As a person who has read all of Robert B. Parker's books, and the posthumously written ones, by other authors, "Cheap Shot," was just that at about one quarter of its length too long as we had to suffer with the author at finding an ending. If like me, you are a Spenser fan, and just HAVE to keep reading the series, then do, and form your own opinion. If you want to be introduced to Spenser, Hawk, Z, and not start here; you probably wont' want to pick up another.
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on May 13, 2014
I agree to some degree with the 2-star reviewer who wrote that this time around it seems as though Atkins tried too hard to include all things Spenser. This story wasn't bad and I give it 3 stars, but some details were just off the mark. For example, the book starts out during the NFL pre-season. Isn't that mid-August? Yet in this book, the leaves are falling off the trees and the people sitting in the back yard are shivering in the cold. Spenser and Susan go to a pre-season game all bundled up. I went to one in Pittsburgh last season in shorts and a tank top. And the climate difference between Pittsburgh and Boston is negligible. Another thing that drove me crazy throughout the book was that Atkins kept writing that Spenser would try "and" do this, and try "and" do that. You don't "try and" do something; you "try to" do something. I know I'm not the grammar police, but a professional writer should know better. And Spenser speaks so eloquently, I don't think he'd ever say it.
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on September 15, 2015
Not a bad book, until one gets to page 287 and I quote:

"on the console to the TV he found my .38. He checked the safety and then tossed it to me."

I find it difficult to believe an Alabama fellow is too dumb to know NO revolvers have a safety! Duh, not even in the movies, where they sometimes have silencers, which is also UNTRUE.

Sheesh, Ace. (And what about your editor?) If you don't know a damned thing about guns, don't write crime. Try football.
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on May 6, 2014
It takes only a few sentences of this new age classic for the reader to forget where they are, who they are and what they are doing and find themselves lost and completely absorbed into the leafy surrounds, the good guys and the bad guys of beautiful downtown Boston. This is the third Spenser novel written by Ace Atkins and it stands head and shoulders with the best Mr Parker ever wrote.

Big name NFL super star Kinjo Heywood hires Spenser to help him with the small problem of anonymous harassment that has the potential to turn nasty. Shots have already been fired by Heywood in defence of his family, and following legal advice, Spenser is brought in to find out who the baddies are and find out what they want. And to get rid of them.

It turns out in the past that Heywood liked the ladies and a nightclub shooting in New York which turned fatal all adds interest to the tale. But its the quality of writing by Mr Atkins which will turn heads and make the reader stop and re-read whole paragraphs just to make sure they don't miss something special. For example, taken from page twelve of this glorious hardcover:

' ... The child looked at us through the binoculars. When I smiled directly at him, he ran away. A strong wind rustled tree branches overhead. A bright sun shone across the tree fort, creating small pockets and insignificant shadows. Leaves fell and fluttered to the ground ... Crystal made another drink. I finished my coffee and said my good-byes ... I would start tomorrow. "

Reading this phrase for the first time, I have to ask myself what exactly is an insignificant shadow. I pause in mid-thought and decide to keep reading. I wonder at quote's end, therefore, if Heywood's enemies know deep-down that the clock is ticking and Spenser is on their trail. Be afraid, guys. Be very afraid.

Anyway, a summary: This tale is a wonderfully exciting addition to the beloved Spenser legend. CHEAP SHOT is a must read for long term fans of the series as well as a good starting point for newbies. But one wonders if long term veterans of the Spenser series will enjoy it more than most. They will read this and saviour every word, absorbing every last drop of atmosphere, tension, irony and implicit violence that underwrites just about every sentence. By book's end the reader's emotions will be through the roof but look carefully early on for the reference to (of all things!) a legendary Star Wars point of reference from Mr Atkins!

The new fans are most welcome, of course. Come in and the party. But don't take the series for granted. There is something seriously special about the Spenser novels and if you read them too quickly, you might just miss the point. Lets just be grateful Ace Atkins is around to give us such a fine addition to the legend.

BFN Greggorio!
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on May 15, 2014
This story appears to be good, then becomes undone as one keeps reading. For those of us who are familiar with Spenser's characters, the most obvious disappointments are Susan who is portrayed as a "cussing" mama, and Hawk as being a chasing cock- hound. Hawk never chased women, they come to him. Now, does that sound like "our" characters? Disappointing, very disappointing.
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on May 12, 2014
Let me start by saying I'm an Ace Atkins fan. I really like his stuff and thought his first Spenser book was quite good. This one left me luke-warm so I spent a bit of time trying to figure out why. I came to the conclusion that, for whatever reason, the author seemed to be trying way, way too hard to recreate Spenser this time around and in frustration, compensation or maybe even laziness ended up throwing together every Spenser "bit" he could cram in to try to pull it off. Of course Hawk was there, and Susan, and Sixkill, and Henry, and his favorite Boston & State Police cops, and several of his less-than-savory underworld contacts, and references to former clients & cases, etc. It was overkill I thought - Parker used to write whole books without Hawk, or barely a reference to Susan. And I found the references to the actual Patriots coach, players and owner kind of forced. I think, at the end of the day, that because Spenser was truly Parker's alter ego, and so much of what made the series so good was the Parker/Spenser mind at work (along with some interesting plots and characters) that it's hard for anyone else, no matter how talented (and Atkins is) to recreate that magic. And in this case, throwing in practically every Spenser cue imaginable, apparently to compensate, just didn't do least for me. Will be the last Spenser I pre-order, but if I see the next gets some great reviews I'll give it another try.
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on May 24, 2014
While all the characters are there I was disappointed. No one seems able to catch the sparkle of Robert Parker's dialogue. Good plot here but writing is flat.
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on June 15, 2014
As a longtime Parker fan, I was dubious about his family's decision to allow other writers to attempt to keep alive his franchise characters. It seemed likely to me that the legacy would end up tarnished. I was pleasantly surprised in Atkins' prior efforts to continue the Spenser trope. I thought he had achieved the most important aspect of recreating the rhythm and pacing of dialogue among Spenser and the various other familiar characters. On the other hand, I thought the story telling didn't quite measure up, and in this most recent effort, I found the story development to be muddled, and, at times, nearly incoherent. I gave the effort a reluctant three stars because the repartee had several entertaining moments. Many other reviewers have noted that in the last few offerings from Mr Parker, the overall quality had seemed to have deteriorated from his earlier, brilliant efforts, and I agree with that assessment. However, I was so deeply appreciative of his overall body of work, that I was willing to overlook the lack of depth of story line and plot development in favor of simply taking pleasure in revisiting the engaging dialogue of which I had become so fond. Regarding Mr Atkins' efforts at keeping alive the franchise, he does not enjoy the lifetime reader goodwill Mr Parker had earned. Future efforts will have to be much better executed for me to continue as a reader.
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