Book Review: Robert B. Parker’s Bye Bye Baby by Ace Atkins

In Bye Bye Baby, Ace Atkins' next installment of Robert B. Parker's series, Spenser is in charge of keeping the progressive politician Carolina Garcia-Ramirez safe as she runs for her second campaign while simultaneously battling death threats.

The 50th book in Robert B. Parker’s iconic Spenser series is also, alas, Ace Atkins’ last time at the helm. Fortunately for us readers, he goes out with a bang, presenting us with an absorbing tale that has Spenser and co grappling with issues ripped straight from the headlines.

Congresswoman Carolina Garcia-Ramirez, or CGR for short, is up for reelection against Tommy Flaherty, the politician she unseated to represent their Cambridge, Massachusetts district. As a charismatic Black Hispanic woman on the progressive left of American politics, CGR has become a lightning rod on the national scene, as her bodyman will readily, if quietly, attest to Spenser: 

“I’ve never met a woman more loved and hated at the same time,” he said, whispering. “There don’t seem to be many in the middle. They either think she’s Joan of Arc or Atilla the Hun. Everything, everyone, has become so polarized. I don’t think of her issues as that radical. Nor do most people in our district. But get outside of Cambridge and people want to crucify her. There’s one old congressman from Louisiana who told her that she was going to burn in hell.”

 

“And why would that be?”

 

“He said she was anti-American and needed to go back where she came from.”

 

“Roxbury?”

 

“Exactly[.]”

The congresswoman’s team wants to hire Spenser as her personal security while she’s in Boston, a move she resists. She wants to be as approachable as possible to the general public, and having a bodyguard would serve as, at the very least, a psychological deterrent. But an escalating series of incidents against her campaign and person–plus an interview with Spenser that assures her that he isn’t just a hulking meathead–soon persuades her otherwise.

Spenser being Spenser, he decides to take a proactive tack against the threats coming in against the congresswoman, particularly those from a far-right group of white supremacists styling themselves as Minutemen. When an attempted hit-and-run leads to actual murder, he soon finds himself relying on his vast network of contacts to track down the perpetrators behind a deadly conspiracy that aims to strike right at the heart of American democracy. But can he stop these evildoers before even more lives are lost?

Bye Bye Baby was as delightfully witty and clever as I’ve come to expect from Mr. Atkins’ writing, with Spenser’s dry humor counterbalanced perfectly by his heart. It was great to renew my acquaintance with the cast of recurring characters as well. I was especially intrigued by the developments for Hawk, and hope that the next author to take over this series picks up the plotline introduced here and does it justice.

But most of all it was nice to look back with Spenser over how things have changed with time, and often for the better, in sharp counterpoint to the warped nostalgia of this book’s villains:

Over the years, many things have changed about my profession. I no longer keep an actual landline on my desk. Since no one had called it since a little past the first of the millennium, I discontinued the service.

 

My superhuman ability to scroll through microfilm was no longer in demand. Almost anything I needed to look up, from old news stories, to criminal histories, to vehicle records, could be found online. Although I missed my visits to the Boston Public Library, I’d accepted the long, boring hours at my desk, thinking about how many old cases I could’ve solved with Google.

I’ll very much miss Mr. Atkins’ version of Spenser, but am glad he went out on a high here with this topical thriller. Bye Bye Baby showcases how very relevant and entertaining Spenser can continue to be in the 21st century. It’ll be a tough act to follow, but I wish every success to the next person who takes up the helm.

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