Book Review: Robert B. Parker’s Someone to Watch Over Me by Ace Atkins
Robert B. Parker’s Someone to Watch Over Me by Ace Atkins is the latest thriller featuring the legendary Boston PI, where Spenser and his young protégé, Mattie Sullivan, take on billionaire money manager running a network of underaged girls for his rich and powerful clients.
As a child of the ‘80s, my main exposure to Robert B. Parker’s Spenser was through the TV show starring Robert Urich and Avery Brooks. I’ve always meant to read the novels, especially after enjoying several other of Mr. Parker’s series, but never had a chance until the latest of Ace Atkins’s take-over of the series. So while I can’t tell you how this book compares to Mr. Parker’s originals, I can say that it’s a wildly entertaining novel on its own, featuring a ripped-from-the-headlines story with all the trademark wry humor, Boston shenanigans, and juxtaposition of violence and sophistication one associates with this property.
This 48th overall installment of the official Spenser stories sees Mattie Sullivan, Spenser’s apprentice, come to the fore. A college student hoping to become an investigator herself, she’s quick to accept a seemingly routine case brought to her by an old friend. Fifteen-year-old Chloe Turner only needs Mattie to retrieve the backpack she left at the exclusive Blackstone Club the other night. But when Mattie is stonewalled then harassed by Blackstone thugs who are unhappy she’s not taking no for an answer, she turns to Spenser for help.
Spenser, of course, wants to know more. Turns out, Chloe was paid a large sum of money to give a guest at the men-only club a massage. When the guy started getting creepy, Chloe bolted out of the building, accidentally leaving her bag behind. Mattie and Spenser are aghast at this exploitation of a minor, and Spenser is ready to start busting doors and breaking heads. But they soon discover that Chloe is only the latest girl to encounter this guy and his circle of enablers—and that other girls from the Boston area have far worse stories.
Mattie and Spenser’s investigations will find them traveling from Boston to Miami and beyond as they track down the Jeffrey Epstein-like figure. Most people are reluctant to speak out against wealthy, powerful Peter Steiner. One of the few who will talk with Spenser—off the record, of course—is Cuban immigrant Pepe De Santos, who took over Fighting Fitzpatrick Landscapers Inc. from his now-retired boss, the original Fitzpatrick.
“Was that the first time you saw [Steiner] with kids?” I said.
“No,” De Santos said. “But it was the worst. Something I couldn’t ignore. Steiner has many friends. Many who join him in this. I have worked in this country for long enough to know how to keep to myself. Mr. Fitzpatrick worked on the Miami estates of many drug lords and never said a word. But this is different. This man is different. It is a secret world behind his gates. And if you speak out against him or say a word, men will come for you. They have harassed me many times.”
This, of course, only makes Spenser and Mattie more determined to bring Steiner to justice, hopefully saving some more girls in the process. But the reappearance of an old foe will make even Spenser pause, as memories of mortality will haunt him and his team.
If Someone to Watch Over Me is representative of the Spenser oeuvre, then I have certainly been missing out! Fast-paced and thrilling with just the right amounts of humor and pathos to make our protagonists feel more like real people than two-dimensional characters on a page, this was far more entertaining than my hazy memories of the TV show had led me to hope. I especially loved the relationship between Spenser and Mattie. Ten years ago, he was helping the teenaged girl find her mother’s killer; now, he’s treating her as an equal, if still learning, partner in his investigations. After they follow Steiner’s trail to Miami, he tells her:
“Time to learn the hard facts about sleuthing.”
“Not much glitz and glamour,” I said. “First stop is the county courthouse, and then we need to stop by the local newspaper. I’ve learned it’s best to get the lay of the land before storming the castle.”
“Is that what we’re going to do?” Mattie said. “Storm the castle?”
“Probably not,” I said. “But I do hope we get a pretty good view of the drawbridge. And maybe of Steiner, too.”
Mr. Atkins has written a timely, satisfying novel that has certainly made me a Spenser fan! I’m already eager for the next installment in the series so I can enjoy spending more time with these engaging characters as well as see them embroiled in truly topical issues. In the meantime, I have a rich back catalog to make my way through as I learn more about the terrific Spenser universe.