In a season where a number of authors have tried to duplicate the work of the late Robert B. Parker, "Wonderland" is one of the better efforts. Two other recently released titles are misses.
Ace Atkins does a pretty decent job at being Robert B. Parker, especially where it counts in "Wonderland."
He brings Spenser the private eye, Susan the girlfriend, Healy the cop and Sixkill the Indian, to life with the pithy dialogue, the saucy relationships and a good story.
Reading "Wonderland" almost feels like Parker has come back from the dead to tell a story as Spenser wades in to find out who is pushing his friend and boxing mentor, Henry Cimole, out of his condo.
Spenser works to find the muscle behind the condo takeover and discovers moneymen who intend to replace the condos with a new casino based on "Alice in Wonderland" complete with sexy barmaids dressed like Alice.
In Spenser fashion, he just asks questions and snoops around until he makes people mad. Then all kinds of curious facts come to light.
He works with his sidekick Zebulon Sixkill until Sixkill is ambushed and beaten badly for the snooping — hurting his pride and his leg.
Then it becomes somewhat of a crusade for Spenser to bring about some justice and closure for Sixkill and make Cimole and his friends money on the deal they can't stop.
Susan, Spenser's longtime squeeze, is mostly away on a lecture tour but she drops in and out long enough to be helpful. Her cat-and-mouse dinner game with the casino pushers is a pleasure to read.
Atkins crafts the talk between the characters so well.
He also tells the story in tight, short chapters that keep the story moving — again, so Parker-like.
There are a few swear words and fisticuffs along the way.
Despite the fact that Spenser deals with crime and deceit, he comes off like a champion anybody would like in their corner.
Spenser is a good guy who just happens to be so tough that the cops and the bad guys get out of his way. He's a smart aleck but smart enough to get away with whatever he says.
He even kind of likes Rick Weinberg, the ultra-wealthy kingpin of the development company intent on rolling over the condo residents, and finds himself working for the group he originally investigated when the kingpin is murdered.
Wives and girlfriends play surprising roles. The twists at the end surprise as well.
It all makes for an interesting read that is quite rewarding given that the original author of the Parker books has died.
"ROBERT B. PARKER's BULL RIVER," by Robert Knott, G. P. Putnam's Sons, $26.95, 352 pages (f)
Author Robert Knott attempts to bring characters created by Robert B. Parker — outlaws turned lawman Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch — back to life in this western murder mystery scheduled to be released on Jan. 7.
There's a lot more foul language in Knott's "Bull River," a western story featuring characters made popular by the late Robert B. Parker, than in any of Parker's originals.
In fact, the number of four-letter words used in everyday conversation makes it a book to put away rather than pick up.
And this story by Knott is slow, a rare problem in a Parker book, at least one truly written by Parker.
Cole, now a federal marshal hunting escaped bad guys, along with his sidekick Hitch, are still an interesting pair.
They've been on the other side of the law long enough to know all the tricks that they now employ to roust out outlaws.
They're cagey and wise and the relationship between the two taciturn characters is warm.
The problem comes with movement of the storyline.
If ever there was a problem, it was more of "Oh, this book's already over" problem.
This book goes on and on and the mystery remains unresolved.
Who robbed the bank? Who really killed Hitch and Cole's friend? Who can be trusted?
"ROBERT B. PARKER'S D----- IF YOU DO," by Michael Brandman, G. P. Putnam's Sons, $26.95, 271 pages (f)
The Jesse Stone character in one of the latest Robert B. Parker books — in this case, written by Michael Brandman and released in September — is much milder than he originally was.
He has a cat. He drinks much less and when he does, it's coffee more than Scotch. He apparently is over his ex-wife Jenn now, as she is never mentioned.
He still protects the town of Paradise as the police chief, but he's less ascerbic in his manner and his talk.
Overall, it's a little disappointing, but the story is fairly interesting as Stone sets out to find a name for a murdered young woman who looks familiar to him and to right the many wrongs at a nearby retirement home housing an old friend.
He solves both problems fairly easily, but there are fisticuffs and attempted bribery and some heavy-handed law enforcement efforts on the way.
Not sure a modern police officer could get away with some of his moves.
Again, the writing style is Parker-like as in short chapters, a simple story and some smart-aleck dialogue, but Brandman doesn't quite do Parker the way Parker did Parker.
There are also some profanity to watch out for and a storyline involving prostitution.
Approach with caution.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.