Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lullaby by Robert B. Parker and Ace Atkins

Photo: Lullaby's book cover, from Kirkus Reviews, at

The title says it's "Robert B. Parker's Lullaby," and the copyright belongs to the estate of Robert B. Parker, but this novel, the first without Parker, is all Atkins.  The names are the same, but the writing is completely different.  Not that this is bad; the writing is adequate, sometimes good.  Better than most in the genre, probably.  But the benchmark's of Parker's writing--and though the comparison is unfair, it's inescapable when you take over someone else's iconic series--were the sparseness of his prose, and the breeze of his wit and descriptions.  In short, Parker made it all look effortless.  Atkins simply tries too hard; his wit is sometimes strong and real, and his writing is often funny, but there are obvious instances in which he simply tries too hard to be witty or funny, and, at those specific moments, everything falls flat.  I found the writing too self-aware.  Characters would often say that now, to fit the genre, the other guy should say or do X, or behave like Y.  Even Spenser tries too hard, and the funny thing about his character used to be that he so much didn't give a damn, that that was what partly made his lines so funny.  He simply tried to self-amuse; here, he tries to amuse everyone else.  Doesn't work most of the time.

And the transition novel also too clearly shows the age of the minor characters (Parker had purposely aged Spenser lately; here there's an odd combination of his world, and the other characters, getting old, but he doesn't.  Necessary, of course, for the main character of the series--and Rita Fiore, more than everyone else, clearly hasn't aged a bit--but here it was just a weird juxtaposition.) and the carrying on of the world.  Joe Broz is in Hospice care; the Fed who called Spenser Lochinvar is in a Jewish retirement community in Florida.  Characters lament about how it all used to be, and frequently.  Even a Whitey Bulger-like hood is frowned upon for being with a woman vastly younger than himself--though that's what Hawk does every night.  The plot unfolds much like Parker's might; you'll see nothing new here if you've read his stuff.  Yet it all does seem new anyway, somehow; Atkins clearly goes out of his way to make it his own, and mostly he does it well, and it's okay and necessary that he does so.

Overall it's a good book, sufficiently nostalgic and new at the same time, old and young at the same time (the main minor character, if you will, is fourteen, and the older guys respect her young toughness), Parker's and Atkins' at the same time.  If you liked Parker, you'll like Atkins, and you might like Atkins if you didn't like Parker.

This is because his writing purposely does things that Parker's didn't.  There's lots of imagery and extended metaphor here; outside of Crimson Joy, Parker usually stayed away from those.  The paragraphs and sentences are longer; none of the action is as tightly written as Parker's was.  This last could be worked on.  Two scenes in the novel should've been a lot more tense than they were.

But it's a good transition novel.  Atkins has now made the series his own; it'll be interesting to see what road he travels with it.

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