Spenser’s in LA, but everything else is in its place

Bob Moyer has read a lot of Spenser books, and he says Ace Atkins has things pretty well in hand in this latest.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

ANGEL EYES. A Spenser Novel. By Ace Atkins. Penguin. 320 pages. $27.

Everything in its place. That’s what Spenser fans expect after 48 books in the series, all the stuff that makes up the adventures of the one-name Boston private eye. Created by Robert B. Parker, Spenser has lived on thanks to the pen of Ace Atkins, who has honed his capture of Spenser essence. He shows us just how much in this latest work.

Like the wise-guy cracks Spenser is famous for. Faced with a cadre of Serbian gangsters, Spenser says to the leader, “Did you get a deal on that tracksuit, or did you lose a bet?”  And the sizeable sidekick, in this case Zebulon Sixkill, the Indian Spenser mentored many volumes ago. He provides both backup and banter, mostly as a straight man. When Spenser says one of the crooks is “… a disreputable thug with a horrible dental plan,” Sixkill replies “And what are we?” Spenser shoots back, “Reputable thugs with good teeth.”  A literate sort of P.I., Spenser usually drops quotes from Shakespeare all over the place. This time, he slips in some Thoreau and Dylan Thomas. Susan, Spenser’s main squeeze these many years, also makes a requisite appearance and contribution to solving the crime at the core of the book. Yes, everything in its place.

Except Spenser — he’s in Los Angeles. The daughter of one of Susan’s friends has disappeared, and Spenser has been hired to find her. He heads off into the wilds of Hollywood, and encounters characters cut straight from the headlines — a con artist cult leader who likes to keep the cute girls near him, and a movie magnate who makes promises to pretty girls, but doesn’t pay off, even if they do. Aided by a team of local tough guys, the reputable thugs take on the best the thugs have to give, and come out with the girl, of course. 

The travel around LA gives Spenser ample opportunity to comment on the city: “I passed billboards for new TV shows and big summer blockbusters, breast enlargement and liposuction. Accident lawyers smiled down on me, promising to fight for me at all costs. Everything was pancake flat and spread out into an ever-expanding void of nothingness. More 7-Elevens, 76 gas stations, and endless chain drugstores along the sunbaked streets. I fought the radio dial to find something that I recognized, lucking upon some Art Pepper. Rain began to hit the windshield and I snapped on the wipers. I passed a strip club lit in purple neon. Another billboard advertised a big Cinderella musical coming to town.”  

With that kind of hard-boiled prose, and quotes from old movies no one recognizes, Atkins has raised his game. Let’s see what happens in the next episode, when Spenser gets back to Boston. He can’t wait, and neither can his fans.

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