"Lullaby" by Ace Atkins (G.P. Putnam's Sons, $26.95)
It is difficult to imagine that someone can take the characters, unique style and knowledge of the late Robert B. Parker and write the way Parker did in his Spenser series of novels. Well, Ace Atkins has, in his first Spenser novel, "Lullaby."
Robert B. Parker died of a heart attack in January 2010. Shortly after his death, his estate asked Ace Atkins to take over the writing of the Spenser series. Spenser and all of the related characters in the series, the style and the Boston-area scene we have enjoyed through the years in Parker's 40 Spenser novels are incorporated into this terrific first effort by Ace Atkins.
Atkins on his own is a very talented American journalist and author. While at the Tampa Tribune he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for a feature based on his investigation into a forgotten murder from the 1950s. He is also an acclaimed novelist with 10 novels written before he took on Parker's Spenser challenge.
He was born in Alabama, grew up in the San Francisco area and moved on after college to a writing career that began in Tampa. While working for the Tribune, he wrote his first novel, "White Shadow," the story drawn from the core of his newspaper series on the forgotten '50s murder.
"Lullaby" begins, as do the other Spenser novels written by Parker, with a case walking in off of the street. In this one, the character seeking Spenser's help is a feisty but sweet and smart 14-year-old by the name of Mattie Sullivan. She asks Spenser to prove that the man in jail for killing her mother (who was a prostitute and drug addict) is not guilty. She has a suspect but needs Spenser's help to get proof and a conviction.
Instead of his usual compensation, Spenser tells Mattie he'll take a box of doughnuts for his efforts. Spenser learns that Mattie's mother was killed when Mattie was 10 years old, since that time she's been left with the responsibility of taking care of her younger twin sisters in the project. Although Mattie's grandmother lives with them, she's an alcoholic and can barely keep food on the table for the girls, much less provide any parenting skills.
While the case unfolds and the investigation takes Spenser all over Boston searching for the truth, many familiar characters from prior Spenser novels become involved. These include Spenser's long-time girlfriend, the psychologist Susan Silverman, and his reliable side-kick, Hawk. Author Atkins also brings other Parker characters in like the Boston homicide captain, Martin Quirk, and Lt. Frank Belson, plus the notorious mobsters Vinnie Morris, Tony Marcus and Gerry Brozy.
It is amazing how Atkins can capture the dialogue and traits of all of these characters. This very entertaining novel delivers all of the excitement and life that Parker wrote into each page of his Spenser series. It's an excellent effort by the talented Ace Atkins.
-- Reviewed by David and Nancy Beckwith
"Muckraker: The Scandalous Life and Times of W. T. Stead" is the biography, just published in Britain by Robson, of a late 19th-century London newspaperman who once claimed: "God calls and now points to the only true throne in England, the Editor's Chair."
Snead was famously fearless, favoring "leaps in the dark and venturesome experiments" that included newfangled American typography and a style of investigative reporting that defied the law.
While searching for evidence of child prostitution, he passed himself off as a client and was charged with abduction. Convicted and sent to Holloway Gaol, Stead was confined as a "first-class misdemeanent" (thanks to the intercession of Cardinal Manning) so that he could continue at his job amid home comforts. Prime Minister William Gladstone said Snead had "done more harm to journalism than any other individual."
In an effort to rehabilitate himself, the God-like editor left for a new career in the United States, where his "If Christ Came to Chicago" sold 60,000 copies on publication day in 1894. Even now, Chicago struggles to unload itself of the image he created of the city, describing its underworld, gambling dens and brothels.
Snead later returned to Britain to campaign against ocean liners being permitted to sail with insufficient lifeboats. Incredibly, at the age of 62, Stead went down with the Titanic on his way to a Christian revivalist convention in New York.
-- M. H.