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"Ace Atkins Can Write."
Ace Atkins recently got a dream gig: writing the next Robert B. Parker's Spenser novel. When this was announced, I began to investigate Mr. Atkins' talent by getting a free sample of Dirty South on my iPad. After reading the first few pages, I recognized that he had the talent to handle the job and made the purchase.
Dirty South was published in 2005 and other works by Ace came before and after. I choose Dirty South to read because it was written in the first person as are the Spenser novels. I don't believe Ace wrote Dirty South trying to emulate RBP, but the similarities between Parker's Spenser and Atkin's Nick Travers are notable.
They are both single white guys with friends who are African American. They both are in relationships with strong independent women. They have a devoted work ethic, a sense of duty, and an interest in music.
Spenser and Travers grew up without a father, but with strong father figures. They tend to try to teach or lead by example when the opportunity presents itself. They have rules and are dogmatic about following them.
One difference in writing styles I noticed is that Ace Atkins tends to be more descriptive in his writing than Parker. I normally run from descriptive passages like a 17 year old crack dealer runs from the cops after a buy/bust! But I found Ace's descriptions interesting, colorful and relative. He doesn't take up paragraphs or pages with boring words about stuff most readers couldn't care less about, instead he uses description to paint a picture of Southern life that rings true to this Carolina boy.
Ace Atkins is a brave man. Taking up the mantle of Robert B. Parker has to be as terrifying as it would be exciting. Parker fans have had decades to enjoy his style and embrace his characters and we are a loyal bunch. Everyone has their own opinions on this effort which range from: "Don't you dare!" to "Thanks for keeping the adventure going!"
I think Ace has to bring his own voice to the Spenser series and I am reminded of a couple of instances where a fresh look at established characters worked. The show Smallville just finished a very successful ten year run and they changed much of the old story we all grew up with from the Superboy, DC comic. I loved it. Then I was worried when the latest Star Trek movie debuted with a younger Kirk and Spock. They changed the whole Trek timeline. It worked and I loved it as well.
In both these cases, the creators stayed true to the basic characters, built on the legacy that had been created, and changed just enough to ensure new fans and old would be pleased. That is what I hope Ace can do for the Spenser series. He has some big shoes to fill.
By the way, I plagiarized the title of this article. I found those four words written by Robert B. Parker on the blurb of Dirty South: "Ace Atkins can write." That's good enough for me.
Will Spenser fans give Ace a chance?
We'd be fools not to.