Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Déja Vu All Over Again...

As I may have mentioned previously, I am a fan of crime fiction, especially detective novels in the Chandler style (or at least hovering around it).

To my mind, among the finest proponents of this style have been the late Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser series, and Loren D. Estleman, with his Detroit-based protagonist, Amos Walker.

Spenser, introduced in 1973 in The Godwulf Manuscript, has developed over the intervening 40-plus years, from a mid-thirties, Korean War veteran and ex-boxer into a sixty-something Korean War veteran and ex-boxer; and, with Parker's passing in 2010, the character seemed to stop aging altogether. This may have been as much due to the designs of Ace Atkins, the author selected to continue the bestselling series, than to any intent on Parker's part. Certainly for me there was always a sense that the character was aging in step with his creator (albeit at perhaps a 10-year remove), and so perhaps with Atkins's arrival it was seen as okay to, if not reboot the character, then at least inject a little more youthfulness into him and his world.

Gone are the references to Korea and fighting the famous "Jersey Joe" Walcott - now we simply accept that Spenser was at one time in the Service and boxed. The rest is all there, and Atkins's style sits so well on the page that one could imagine Parker's shade watching over his shoulder, ready to offer, ah, 'parently guidance'.

The stories are sharp, with more time given to the investigation at hand, and somewhat less to the Spenser-Susan relationship byplay that had become prevalent in Parker's latter novels. Pearl remains part of the cast; being a dog person, I have no problem with that.

The latest book in the series, Cheap Shot, sees the Boston P.I. approached by New England Patriots linebacker Kinjo Heywood, concerned about the possibility he's being stalked by persons unknown.

His own reputation for violent conduct having landed him on the wrong end of the media's interest in the past, Heywood hires Spenser to find and dissuade any would-be stalkers, despite objections from the Patriots' head of security and Heywood's own agent.

However, when Heywood's 7-year-old son Akira is kidnapped, Spenser and Hawk are quickly on the case, along with new protegé Zebulon Sixkill.

Scouring the city for clues to the whereabouts of the child, Spenser revisits old adversary Tony Marcus and encounters a new enemy in FBI agent Connor. When the boy's father decides to take matters into his own hands, it threatens to run the clock out before the veteran detective can save the day.

Another fascinating visit to Spenser's Boston, sharply written by Ace Atkins, Cheap Shot stands as a solid addition to the Spenser canon. Atkins once again perfectly captures Parker's 'voice', and I can't help but feel that the great man would be pleased that his character is in such good hands.

*********

I've been following the exploits of Amos Walker for so long that I feel I know Detroit like the back of my hand, despite my never having been there.

For me, it's a city that only exists at 3am, or on a wet Monday in February. It just has that feel to it, and no matter the narrative, I can't escape the image whenever Walker hits the streets.

However, this latest case left me feeling lost in warm sunlight...
:

:
:
From the moment I met Walker's client, Alec Wynn, I had a sense of déja vu. Not remarkable in itself; I get that a lot. But this was different - I had encountered this character before. Wife missing, only a note saying 'Don't look for me', no personal effects out of place - something about this case just didn't sit right.

Walker wasn't at his office when I visited, and I got past Rosecranz easily enough, never mind how. No prospective clients in the outer office meant I was free to try my luck on the inner door. It didn't give much trouble (what's there to steal in a P.I.'s office?) so I closed it quietly behind me and looked around.

Painting of
Custer's Last Stand on the wall - check; souvenir ashtray from Traverse City - check; safe with spare shirt, extra bullets and the good Scotch - check.

That left the filing cabinet. A three-drawer relic from the Age of Wood, it offered little resistance to a letter-opener and a lot of determination.

I checked the clock. I had plenty of time - Walker wouldn't be back for a year or so. Then I dug deep into his files.

After what seemed like a month, but was only about half an hour, I found what I was looking for.

Thee was no mention of international drug dealers; no hint that MOSSAD or their associates had any interest or that the cast fared about as well as the lineup in a Shakespearean tragedy. Just the story, brief and unremarkable, of a missing person.

Closing and re-locking the file drawer, I had to wonder whether Amos was starting to lose it - was this apparent dementia a legacy of his Vicodin issues, or were the powers that be setting him up for something?

Certainly from what I knew of the Wynn case (the second, not the first) it seemed that he was off his game. Rambling dialogue, with comments intended to provoke a punch or a bullet rather than develop a lead, the poor guy seemed more in need of a vitamin shot than a shot of Scotch.

Worked out in the end, though - same as it did the first time, only in a less satisfying way.

I took a last look around the office, used a handkerchief to wipe any prints I may have left, then let myself out, locking the door behind me.

I left the building, passing Rosecranz, asleep and snoring softly in his cubby, one eye open.

I smiled to myself; with Cerberus to watch the place, it's a sure thing that Walker would come to no harm.

I resolved to look in on him again, then flagged a cab for the airport and left the Motor City behind...


*********

"Don't Look For Me" (Amos Walker #23) is expanded from the short story called "I'm In The Book", originally published in 1986 for an anthology entitled "The Mean Streets" (Mysterious Press) and subsequently in the collection "General Murders" (Houghton Mifflin, 1988).