Book Report: Kickback by Ace Atkins (2015)

Book coverMy beautiful wife saw this book at the library and brought it home for me to read in a hurry, since it’s a new book and is only available for a week checkout. So I did.

Welp, the book is an Ace Atkins Spenser book, and he’s moving more into his style than merely imitating Parker’s here. In the book, Spenser works to investigate the relationship between a judge in a small Massachusetts town who sentences juveniles to a for-profit rehabilitaton facility and the for-profit company running it. Of course, the new mob is involved somehow, although I’m still unclear as to how.

My enjoyment of the book is probably diminished by how soon after the Travis McGee books it came.

Atkins’ style for these books, as I’ve mentioned, seems informed by television; the scenes are television-like scenes of scenery and dialog, and the ending of the book wraps the plot up with an explanatory resolution and then some things that might be woven into a future episode. Or not.

The writing also suffers from a couple other flaws:

  • The reliance on the italicized other point-of-view chapters. Instead of the criminal, though, we get a tangentally related unfolding story of not Spenser’s focal point on the island, but another youth sentenced to the facility for a crime we’re only sort of aware of. His story isn’t fully fleshed out, but it’s included because it gives the book a Youth In Jeopardy storyline so favored in Brandman’s Jesse Stone books and gives the book grounds for a cinematic but otherwise extraneous Spenser swoops in in the nick of time to rescue said youth.
  • Some extraneous wordage, including some repeated things. At the outset of the book, when Spenser’s in his office, there’s a touch of description and interaction with the mother of a teen sent to the institution, and there’s a sentence tacked on that says his Brooklyn Dodger hat and peacoat are hanging by the door. But the sentence is tacked onto an unrelated paragraph. Throughout, we’re told about his Dodgers hat and peacoat over and over. Aside from that, there’s a whole chapter of Spenser meeting someone at a textile museum that adds nothing to the story but does describe the museum in detail. It makes one wonder if the author researched it or visited it and had to throw that in to justify writing the trip off.
  • It lacks the depth of MacDonald’s writing, where the asides add some resonance and muse on the meaning of life aside from the crime story. To be fair to Ace Atkins, Parker’s writing started to skip over those flourishes around the time of his trips to California for the television series Spenser: For Hire.

Is it a good book? Is it a bad book? It’s a modern crime fiction book, and it’s probably not a bad example of the genre. But it’s nothing compared to the paperback originals from fifty years ago.

Books mentioned in this review:

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