4 stars out of 5
Taking over where another fiction writer left off has to be one of the toughest jobs there is. Not only are you "stuck" with the same locations and characters, you've got to make it all read as if you didn't write it - or face the wrath of hundreds of angry fans of the original author. So when the estate named Ace Atkins to keep Parker's popular Spenser series alive (Parker had penned 37 of them at the time of his death in 2010 and unless I missed one I don't know about, I've read them all), I was among the skeptics.
This one, I believe, is the fifth for Atkins, and I've read all of them as well. And while I'd be the first to say he's never quite reached the same level as Parker, they've all been quite good and mimic the originals close enough for horseshoes, as we natives of Indiana say. What's different? Mostly, IMHO, the banter among the major characters - Boston private investigator Spenser, his main squeeze Susan Silverman and his pal Hawk - seems less snappy than when Parker was writing the dialogue.
The plots, though, are on the whole done well; in this one, arson is the hot topic after an old Catholic church is burned to the ground, killing three firefighters who became trapped inside. Originally deemed a tragic accident, a year later a string of fires take place, each more serious than the last. One long-time Boston firefighter, who lost his best friend in the church fire and always suspected it was arson, wonders if there's any connection and asks Spenser to look into it.
Following the trail to identify the firebug (or bugs) puts Spenser at odds with some unsavory characters from Boston's underworld who have a burning desire to see him and Hawk six feet under. The race is on: Can Spenser find who is setting the fires before the gangsters make good on their threats?
Robert B. Parker's Slow Burn by Ace Atkins (G.P. Putnam's Sons, May 2016); 316 pp.