Ace Atkins/Robert B. Parker - Wonderland
"This is a cracker of a book..."
Spenser, the Boston PI, is asked by his long-time friend, Henry Cimoli to do him a favour. Henry lives in a condo next to Wonderland, a one-time amusement park and dog track in Revere, a city to the north of Boston. Someone is trying to buy the site, and heavies have been sent in to ease the sale. Spencer takes it on, and discovers that the prospective buyer is Rick Weinberg. Spenser meets up with Weinberg and a deal is struck that satisfies both the sellers and the buyers.
However, things take a sinister turn when Weinberg is murdered. Spenser is caught up in a web of bribery, greed and corruption involving dangerous hoods from Las Vegas and the Commonwealth government (Massachusetts is a commonwealth, not a state) as he tries to unravel the mystery of who killed Weinberg and why. Along the way he meets a beautiful Brit called Jemma Fraser, an ex-Harvard professor called Harvey Rose who is not all he seems, and various other Bostonians who are on the make.
This is a cracker of a book, to be savoured for its plot (which appears complicated but is in fact simple) and for the craft that has gone into the writing. Though the cover states that it is by Robert B. Parker, the writer who first gave us Spenser, it is in fact by Ace Atkins (his second Spenser novel, with a third on the way), as Parker died in 2010. All the things we associate with Spenser are here – Pearl his dog (named after Parker's dog in real life), his wise cracks, the love-of-his-life Susan Silverman, his heart of gold and his commitment to decency and honesty. His sidekick Hawk does not make an appearance, though Zebulon Sixkill ('Z'), a native American, fills his shoes admirably.
However, there is another important 'character' in the Spenser novels, and this is the city of Boston itself. Parker was a Bostonian, but Atkins comes from Mississippi, and though I have never been to the city, his descriptions have the ring of authenticity, and he seems to have captured its essence. Wonderland itself actually exists in real life, and in a satisfying way the book comes full circle, with the plot being set in motion by 'Wonderland', and the satisfying denouement taking place within the shell of the old dog track.
Reviewed by: J.G.