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Book review: 'Kickback' a Spenser novel that rolls along, entertains


August 03, 2015

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"ROBERT B. PARKER'S KICKBACK: A Spenser Novel," by Ace Atkins, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $26.95, 304 pages (f)

In the town of Blackburn, Massachusetts, there’s little hope and lots of fear, and it’s the backdrop for “Robert B. Parker’s Kickback: A Spenser Novel” by Ace Atkins.

The residents have learned not to question the cops who pick up teens on the slightest infraction or the judges who toss them into prison on an island similar to Alcatraz.

The teenagers aren’t provided legal counsel, and the lofty promises of education, recreation and rehabilitation for them aren’t kept.

The judge and his superiors are praised for their zero-tolerance policy while young boys are losing their futures and often their lives.

It’s pretty dismal.

However, when one mother comes to Spenser, a private detective whose first name is never revealed, for help after her son is carted off for making a crude remark on Twitter, you know it’s going to get better somehow.

Spenser is a wisecracking, street-savvy private detective who’s not easily put off. He pokes around until he gets a reaction and creates enough tension to cause the bad guys to mess up. He also doesn’t let anyone get the upper hand.

No matter what is going on, Spenser is fun to follow.

Atkins does a good job of continuing the series started by Robert B. Parker, who died in 2010.

The book has the same peppery dialogue and the same forward movement that come with Spenser’s tough-guy-with-a-soft-heart personality.

Like a terrier, Spenser shakes the problem until the truth falls out, even when he isn’t getting paid and often when he’s putting himself in danger.

Meanwhile, he and his longtime girlfriend keep their relationship burning. Spenser also brings in his smooth and smart sidekick, Hawk, to help him fend off the felons. In the end, Spenser effectively does his part to bring justice back to a world ruled by a pair of crooked judges with plenty of money behind their schemes.

The book also carries some messages to consider; it’s a little unsettling to realize something like this could happen if people don’t pay attention to making sure legal rights are protected.

The passages about the boys serving their sentences on Fortune Island are scary but also blessedly tempered.

For Spenser fans, this is a welcome addition to the collection.

For those who are not yet fans, “Kickback” should draw them in.

There is a fair amount of language throughout the book, including the F-word, and there’s some punching and shooting. The sexual content is more understated than explicit.

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