Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review of "Robert B. Parker's Kickback" by Ace Atkins




Ace Atkins does a good job capturing the feel of Robert B. Parker's Spenser series, with a straightforward plot and characters that feel authentic.

As the story opens a distraught mother from Blackburn, Massachusetts, armed with one of Spenser's favorite sandwiches as inducement, asks the PI to help her son Dillon Yates. The teen has been sentenced to 9 months in a privately run juvenile lockup for the 'crime' of 'twitter-pranking' his vice principal. Spenser soon learns that Judge Joe Scalli, who presides over youth hearings in Blackburn, is notorious for sending kids to privately run jails - almost always without benefit of counsel.

Further investigation reveals that Judge Scalli and others - including another Blackburn judge, a network of mobsters, and a crooked attorney - are part of a complex crime network that has connections to the juvie jails. And the lockups, whose main purpose is making money, hire inept administrators and sadistic guards. Scenes of Dillon and his fellow inmates in juvie prison are interspersed through the story, and they're quite disturbing.

Spenser wants to get Dillon out of jail, expose the judges, and close down the corrupt prisons. Since the PI has all kinds of useful acquaintances he soon rounds up people to assist him. As part of Spenser's inquiries he travels to Florida with his friend Hawk - one of the toughest characters in literature. Of course Spenser and Hawk exchange clever quips with tough guys, get in fights, shoot people...the usual. I especially like the scene where Spenser and Hawk make a surprise visit to Dillon's prison. I don't think it's a spoiler to say this doesn't bode well for some bad guys.

Spenser also spends time with his longtime love Susan, hangs out with his dog Pearl, and waxes eloquent about soup dumplings and lobster rolls (which made me very hungry). Spenser is clearly getting on in years and - in this story - recovering from a knee injury. I'll admit the idea of Spenser's mortality makes me sad. :(

The story, though fictional, makes a good point about private prisons - which seem ripe for corruption, bribery, kickbacks, etc.

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