A novel details the adventures of a literate private detective
“Bye Bye Baby,” set in Boston, is Spenser’s 50th novel and the 10th by Alabama author Ace Atkins, who has been writing his best-selling Quinn Colson novels throughout.
Colson’s novels are set in Mississippi. It’s a miracle that Atkins can manage these two geographic, cultural, and linguistic locales and keep them separate, but it does it very well and for those who read both series, in a fun way.
Spenser, the longtime Boston private detective, has enjoyed an enviable, near-ideal relationship for years with Susan, his beautiful, sophisticated, Jewish, Harvard-educated psychotherapist girlfriend. Spenser and Susan love being together, but they also love living apart, and that works out perfectly for them.
Out for dinner at Grill 23 in Boston, they debate the right martini. She drinks vodka martinis. He drinks gin. He thinks vodka martinis shouldn’t be called real martinis. She thinks gin martinis taste like “bathtub booze.”
Susan is sexy, but not fragile. At dinner, she has the steak while Spenser has seared scallops with asparagus.
This scene will not be found in the novels of Sheriff Quinn Colson.
In “Bye Bye Baby,” Spenser was hired to protect Congresswoman Carolina Garcia-Ramirez, known as CGR for short, an allusion, perhaps, to AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).
The deputy, of Dominican origin, is threatened by a gang of white supremacist thugs calling themselves the Minutemen, no more shame on them. They vandalize her headquarters and seem to want to kill her. Strangely, these New England bigots resemble the Oak Ridge Boys, proclaiming their masculinity with huge beards, and their whiteness with a uniform of khaki pants and white polo shirts, reminiscent of Charlottesville white supremacists. They end up looking like furry, demented frat boys.
CGR does not want Spenser’s protection and doubts his abilities. To reassure and impress her, he quotes “Henry IV, Part Two”. Prince Hal says, “Faith makes me, Though it bleaches the complexion of my greatness to acknowledge it”, which means, without boasting, that he can handle the job.
Elsewhere it says “Ah, therein lies the rub”, which regular readers can get.
Spenser, spelled with an S, like the poet, often quotes poetry, sometimes to gangsters, to their dismay, but in this novel, Atkins has taken Spenser’s quotes to an obscure new level. Susan mentions how any kook can find like-minded people on the internet, and Spenser replies, “In their thick breath, at the rank of rude regime, shall we be obscured. And forced to drink their steam. This quote from “Antony and Cleopatra” is spoken by Cleopatra announcing her refusal to be exhibited as a prisoner in Rome.
Quotes from “Casablanca” are more familiar: “Of all gin joints” etc.
Spenser will need help protecting the deputy and naturally enlists his old pal Hawk, a fearsome creature who operates on both sides of any line. When asked to help, Hawk asks, “Infliction or protection?” It’s work for Hawk!
As whodunit readers will recognize, tensions can be high between PIs and local law enforcement, but not everyone likes the feds, the FBI in particular. The Feds always seem to have a separate agenda. and don’t cooperate properly.
Boston PD makes it a point to go to crime scenes first. The Feds are late because “they had to have their hair cut and their shoulders rubbed every day.” How can you spot a fed every time? “Cheap shoes and expensive haircuts.”
During the action, repeated attempts are made on CRG’s life, each thwarted in whole or in part, and finally Spenser sifts through the various levels of creepiness to end the threat – for now. .
We are in a time of heightened domestic terrorism. As one of the feds put it, “Guarding those *** holes is starting to look like a game of Whac-A-Mole.”
Don Noble’s latest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson and eleven other Alabama authors.
“Bye Bye Baby by Robert B. Parker: A Spenser Novel”
Author: Ace Atkins
Publisher: GP Putnam’s Sons
Price: $28 (hardcover)