Chapter 16
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Parting Shot

Ace Atkins pens his tenth installment in an iconic detective series

“I keep extensive records of my favorite cases,” Spenser tells a waterfront criminal in Robert B. Parker’s Bye Bye Baby, the tenth novel Mississippi-based writer Ace Atkins has penned in the iconic detective series.

Photo: Joe Worthem

Extensive indeed: Their conversation centers on a deceased mobster named Joe Broz, who appeared in Parker’s 1973 novel The Godwulf Manuscript, the first of 40 Spenser books he would publish. After Parker’s death in 2010, his estate chose Atkins to take over, making this the 51st novel in the series (counting an unfinished holiday book that Parker’s longtime agent Helen Brann completed in 2013). As heir to Spenser for a decade, Atkins seamlessly recreated his snappy dialogue and short, action-packed chapters, placing the large cast of characters into contemporary danger.

In Bye Bye Baby, the danger is a threat to Carolina Garcia-Ramirez, a young congresswoman running for her second term. (Picture Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez if she came from Boston.) Because of her left-leaning politics, Garcia-Ramirez has been targeted by an extremist group called The Minutemen. Spenser learns the group is led by a Harvard-educated misogynist living in his parents’ mansion — although there may be even more nefarious forces behind an attack on his client’s campaign headquarters.

Atkins has borrowed political headlines for other Spenser plots, as in last year’s Someone to Watch Over Me, featuring a villainous financier who shared many traits with the late Jeffrey Epstein. The political angle also represents fealty to the original Parker books, which began with Spenser defending the secretary of a radical student group falsely charged with murder.

This time, Spenser steps in to guard the candidate, eventually enlisting friends Hawk and Sixkill in a battle on multiple fronts, all while quoting Shakespeare and Whittier, with occasional references to obscure Westerns. At first, Carolina resists the extra protection, preferring to mingle with her constituents, but she is eventually won over after dinner with Spenser and his long-time love Susan Silverman. As always, Silverman is able to offer psychological insights into the motives of various suspects, in this case those who may mean to harm Garcia-Ramirez.

Midway through the book, Susan cooks as Spenser sits on the couch, catching her up on a long chase scene, all the while scratching the ears of his loyal dog, Pearl. The complex math of a slowly aging detective and the average canine lifespan adds up to his recognition that this is not the original Pearl, or even the Pearl after that.

“Sometimes when we were all together it was if time had not passed,” Spenser muses, “and we were the same people with the same dog as we’d been many years before.” But even in the fictional Boston of an iconic American detective, some version of time marches on. Which may be the reason that Atkins has announced that his tenth Spenser novel will be his last.

“Yep, it’s true,” Atkins tweeted December 11, 2021, announcing his retirement from the series. “After ten books, it was high time to return to some major projects I want to tackle.” Among those projects is a TV series being developed by HBO, based on the author’s Quinn Colson series, set in his native Mississippi. The New York sports writer and crime novelist Mike Lupica, who has already written books featuring Parker protagonists Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall, will take on the Spenser mantle in 2023.

“I don’t know if you noticed,” Hawk says to Spenser once the mystery of Bye Bye Baby is resolved, “but we’re getting long in the tooth.” Fans of the detective — most of them born long after the series began — may have noticed, but they don’t seem to care, so long as crime masters like Atkins and Lupica can supply Spenser with fresh plots, snappy one-liners, and bad guys who need to be taught a lesson.

Parting Shot

Michael Ray Taylor is the author of Hidden Nature: Wild Southern Caves. He chairs the communication and theatre arts department at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.