Published on: November 22, 2019
Ace Atkins is back with his latest novel featuring Robert B. Parker's iconic detective, Spenser, in "Angel Eyes," out just this week, and once again Atkins proves that he is more than up to the task of continuing the enormously popular series.
"Angel Eyes" takes Spenser out of his usual milieu, Boston, and brings him to Hollywood, where he is tasked with finding a young woman who has vanished; aiding him is Zebulon Sixkill, a Native American who he mentored back in Boston but who has moved to Los Angeles and started a career as a private detective.
Atkins has been enormously, almost spookily effective at capturing Spenser's first-person narrative voice without it ever seeming imitative; his deep affection for the characters and the form shows in every one of the seven Spenser novels he has written (Parker wrote 39 of them before his death in 2010). And, he's managed to do it while writing his own series of novels featuring Quinn Colson, an Army Ranger turned southern sheriff who is working to tame an unruly (to say the least county in Mississippi - you should definitely catch up with them if you haven't yet done so.
In "Angel Eyes," naturally, not everything is what it seems. The young woman isn't really missing, but has been absorbed into a cult that seems like a little bit Scientology and a little bit NXIVM. But the woman, Gabriele Leggett, either way may be a damsel in distress, and Spenser's always had a hard time resisting those, even if it doesn't always end well, as in multiple cases that brought him into the life of April Kyle. Which means that no matter who tries to get him to give up the case, he doesn't, which means he has to deal with a sleazy Hollywood agent, an even sleazier Hollywood producer, and members of the cult who give sleaze a whole new level of toxicity. Spenser's never better than when he's ironic and skeptical of his surroundings, and the Hollywood setting gives him plenty of opportunity for that.
There are lots of references to California detective noir - from the work of Dashiell Hammett (Gabrielle Leggett is a character from "The Dain Curse," as are Eric Collinson and Joseph Haldorn, two other names that show up in "Angel Eyes") to Robert Crais (not sure how he resisted a Michael Connelly-Harry Bosch nod, unless I missed it), and it is sort of entertaining to wonder how much Atkins' own recent Hollywood experiences informed the novel.
At one point in the book there is a comment that if Spenser's life were turned into a movie, they'd have to make him edgier by having him coming out of prison; Atkins' second Spenser novel, "Wonderland," has been turned into a Netflix film - directed by Peter berg and featuring Mark Wahlberg as Spenser - and, in fact, they're reportedly turned Spenser into a just-released ex-con. (I'm withholding judgement on this until I see the movie and how they make it work; after all, there have been plenty of things that Spenser has done in the series that should
have resulted in him doing some time, so maybe it'll play out. We'll see.)
"Angel Eyes" also features Atkins' gift for characterization - Sixkill especially remains a terrific invention, and there is a pink-haired hacker named Jem Loon who is a delight (I hope she recurs). Susan Silverman, Spenser's longtime paramour, is in the book just the right amount and moves the plot forward in significant ways; Hawk, alas, does not make an appearance, and he is missed.
I have to admit that my favorite passage of the book has nothing to do with the case and nothing to do with Hollywood. It is Chapter 26, and Spenser is out for a run in Runyon Canyon Park, thinking through the facts of the case. But his thoughts turn to Boston, which he misses, and Susan, and Pearl the wonder dog, and Hawk and the life he has built for himself there. It is just a few paragraphs, but evocative to the point that I missed Boston, too.
The good new is that I'm sure Spenser will be back next year in a new novel, almost certainly in Boston, where he will be in the skillful hands of Ace Atkins.Ford v. Ferrari
is, I think, easily one of the best movies of the year - director and co-writer James Mangold (Logan
, 3:10 to Yuma
) has fashioned a fast-paced, enormously entertaining narrative based on the true story of how the Ford Motor Co. tried to dislodge Ferrari from its place as the perpetual winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans road race in 1966.
Matt Damon plays race car designer Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale plays driver Ken Miles, each of whom finds themselves doing battle not just against other cars and drivers, but also about the bureaucratic group think and micromanagement at Ford, especially as exercised by Leo Beebe, an executive vice president. (Tracy Letts is fantastic as Henry Ford II - imposing, autocratic, but always aware that he is not the
Not only is Ford v. Ferrari
a terrific movie, but it also is replete with business lessons about how to - and how not to - run a business and manage people. One can't help but watch this movie and think about how many companies do not achieve their potential because they are unable or unwilling to take advantage of the enormous talents and passions of the people who work there.
Go see Ford v. Ferrari
. Thank me later.
I'm not yet how I feel about "The Mandalorian," the new Disney+ series that takes us into an offshoot of the Star Wars
universe, five years after the events portrayed in Return of the Jedi
There are eight episodes in the first season of The Mandalorian
, which already has been renewed for a second eight-episode season; three have been released to this point, and I've seen the first two. This is a Jon Favreau baby, and he does a pretty good job of combining all the directing skills that he's honed on Iron Man
and live-action versions of The Jungle Book
and The Lion King
- The Mandalorian
looks great, with all the money (a reported $30 million per episode) seeming to be onscreen.
Mandalorians, it should be pointed out, are a helmeted species that are expert gunfighters and bounty hunters, and the series follows one of them (played by Pedro Pascal, though we never see his face) on a series of adventures. I won't say more than that for fear of spoiling some twists and turns, but let's just say that some of them are made for the Christmas shopping season.
My general feeling about The Mandalorian
is that it is pretty engaging, and I'll stick with it, though it lacks some of the cheesy, ramshackle charm of the series "Firefly" and its film sequel, Serenity
, which made many of us stand up and proudly say, I am a Browncoat.
Here's what I do know. I had to pay for a Disney+ subscription, which I was happy to do because I can share it with my kids, and because I wanted to be able to review "The Mandalorian" here. (See what I do for you?) But there is virtually nothing else on the streaming service that I have any interest in watching, so this may end up being a short-term experiment. (Maybe I'd watch the Marvel superhero movies, if I get really, really desperate.)
I can see where if you had little kids Disney+ would be a good idea - there is a ton of child-centric content there, almost all of it old movies and TV shows. But it is hard for me to imagine that there is enough variety on Disney+ to make me a believer and long-term subscriber.
That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend.