Book review: Recent Robert B. Parker stories include a rewarding hit and two far misses

Published: Thursday, Jan. 2 2014 2:15 p.m. MST

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.

"ROBERT B. PARKER'S WONDERLAND," by Ace Atkins, G. P. Putnam's Sons, $26.95, 306 pages (f)

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's fair.

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.

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