When fourteen-year-old Mattie Sullivan asks Spenser to look into her mother’s murder, he’s not completely convinced by her claim that the police investigation four years ago was botched. Mattie is gruff, street-smart, and wise beyond her years, left to care for her younger siblings and an alcoholic grandmother in a dilapidated apartment in South Boston. But her need for closure and her determination to make things right hit Spenser where he lives—they’re the very characteristics he abides by.
Mattie believes the man convicted of the crime is innocent, and points Spenser to the Southie toughs she saw carrying her mother away hours before her murder. Neither the Boston PD nor the neighborhood thugs are keen on his dredging up the past, but as Spenser becomes more involved in the case, he starts to realize that Mattie may be on to something. He will need Hawk’s help to find peace for Mattie—a job that’s more dangerous than Spenser ever thought.
About the Author
Robert B. Parker was the author of seventy books. Winner of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award and long considered the undisputed dean of American crime fiction, he died in January 2010.
Read an Excerpt
I spotted the girl even before she knocked on my door. I was gaz¬ing out my second-floor office window down at Berkeley Street, eating a cinnamon donut and drinking coffee with a little milk and sugar. The girl looked lost among the businesspeople and tour¬ists hustling along the icy sidewalks. She wore a pink Boston Red Sox cap and an oversized down parka with a fur collar, and stared up at the numbers on the office buildings where Berkeley intersects Boylston.
When she stopped at my building, she folded up a piece of paper and crossed the street with a lot of purpose. I had an open box of donuts and an uncashed check on my desk from Cone, Oakes. I’d done a little work for Rita Fiore and had been paid handsomely.
The winter had been dark, bleak, and endless, but sometime in the last hour I had actually seen the sun. My computer was playing Helen Forrest singing with the Harry James Orchestra. Life was full of promise.
I had a bite of donut just as I heard the knock on the door.
I opened it.
“You Spenser?” asked the girl in the pink Red Sox cap.
“The one and only.”
“People say you’re tough,” she said.
“Did they mention handsome and witty?”
“That you aren’t afraid to use a gun.”
“Only when my feelings get hurt.”
Her accent was South Boston, maybe Dorchester. Henry Hig¬gins could have told me her exact address. I figured her for fifteen or sixteen. She stood about five- foot- five with straight reddish brown hair spilling from the Sox cap. Her eyes were green and very large, made slightly ridiculous with heavy eyeliner.
“You really a private investigator?” she asked.
“Says so on the door.”
“And you didn’t get your license from the Internet or any¬thing?”
“Were you a cop or something?”
“Thrown off the force for drinking?”
“Then why aren’t you a cop now?”
“I don’t play well with others,” I said. “Would you like to come in?”
She peered around me into my office, checking out my desk, two file cabinets, and the couch where Pearl slept when it was take-your-dog-to-work day. I extended my hand toward my guest chair and sat behind my desk. She joined me.
The girl had a full face with ruddy cheeks, a couple of moles on the right side. A cute kid if she’d sit up straight. But she slouched into her chair and nervously toyed with a Saint Christopher medal.
“Who busted your nose?” she asked.
“Jersey Joe Walcott,” I said.
“Former heavyweight champ,” I said. “Before your time.”
I pushed the box of donuts toward her. She looked down at my carefully chosen assortment. Then she looked back at me, still playing with the medal, and shook her head. I let the silence hang there for a moment. I figured if I waited long enough, she might tell me why she was in need of my services. After a long pause, she did.
“Somebody killed my mom.”
I took a deep breath and leaned forward. “When?”
“Four years ago,” she said.
“I want to find the bastards.”
“Okay.” I nodded. “Why now?”
“Nobody listens to kids,” she said. “I’m older now. You do this kind of stuff , right?”
“I’m good at making people listen,” I said.
“How much do you charge?”
I told her the usual rate. She began to dig through her pockets, pulling out five crumpled twenties and a ten, flattening the cash on my desktop. “Will this get you started?”
I glanced down at the money and again nudged the box of donuts her way. This time she accepted, choosing a chocolate-frosted. I complimented her choice. Giving away a whole donut was a major philanthropic gesture. I hoped she appreciated it.
“What’s your name?”
“You take the Red Line into the city, Miss Sullivan?”
“How’d you know that?”
“I am a trained investigator.”
I drank some coffee. I pulled a yellow legal pad and a pen from my left desk drawer. Ever the professional. “Why don’t you tell me what happened.”
“They left her up on The Point,” she said. “By U Mass, where they tore down all those old buildings. You know?”
“She was stabbed to death.”
I nodded some more. I took some notes.
“She’d been raped,” she said. “They think.”
Her face showed little emotion, telling the story as if she’d read it in the newspaper.
“I’m very sorry,” I said.
“That was a long time ago.”
“How old are you now?”
I turned my chair as I listened and could see the morning traffic on Berkeley. People continued to make their way down the side¬walk as an MBTA bus passed, churning dirty slush in its wake.
“What did the police say?”
“They arrested this guy the next day,” she said. “Mickey Green. He’s doing life at Cedar Junction.”
“And you don’t think he did it?”
“I know he didn’t.”
“Mickey is a screwup, but he’s a good guy, you know?”
“Not much to go on,” I said.
“I saw her with a couple men that night,” she said. “I saw them snatch her up and push her into the back of a car. She wasn’t with Mickey. Mickey wasn’t with her that whole night.”
“Who were they?”
“You gonna do this?” she asked.
“These are real mean guys.”
“And young, too.”
“ ‘O Youth! For years so many and sweet.’ ”
“You’re an older guy. I’m just sayin’.”
I tried not to take offense. I was fourteen once.
“I don’t know their full names,” she said. “They just go by Pepper and Moon. Coupla shitbag drug dealers in the neighborhood.”
“I’ve lived in the Mary Ellen McCormack my whole freakin’ life.”
The McCormack was down at the bottom of South Boston, close to Dorchester, a tough old brick housing project that head¬lined a lot of shooting stories in the Globe.
“The last time I saw Pepper was six months ago. I don’t know about Moon.”
“Why not go back to the cops?”
“I did. A bunch of times.”
“What’d they say?”
“That Mickey Green is a true douchebag and got what he de¬served. One time they gave me a pat on the head and a card about some shrink so I could ‘talk about my trauma.’ After a couple of years, they just stopped calling me back.”
“You can vouch for Mickey’s character?”
“He was friends with my mother,” she said. “They used to drink together at Four Green Fields. He helped her when our pipes would bust or if she needed groceries.”
“Tell me what you saw that night.”
“I saw her come into my room,” she said. “I’d put my baby sisters down to sleep after dinner, and my mom came in and went through my drawers for money. She didn’t know I saw her, but I was pissed.
I followed her outside and was gonna yell at her, but before I could, I seen Pepper and Moon grab her and drag her to their car. They threw her in the backseat. They were yelling back and forth, but I couldn’t hear what they were sayin’. Or what she was sayin’. One of the guys hit her. It was a real mess.”
“I’m sorry.” There wasn’t much else to say.
Mattie dropped her head and nodded. She rubbed her hands together. Her nails, which were painted with black polish, had been bitten to stubs. She didn’t look like she’d smiled since elemen¬tary school. Her parka had seen a lot of winters; her wrists peeked out from the blackened sleeves, buttons barely hanging on. The knees of her jeans had been patched.
“Where are your sisters now?”
“We all live with my grandmother.”
“Your mother’s mom?”
Mattie rolled her eyes.
“So four years later, you just decide to set this straight?”
“Me and Mickey been talking about it.”
“You visit him in jail?” I asked. I leaned forward and made some notes.
“He started writing me letters and sending me birthday cards and crap,” she said. Mattie ran her finger under her reddened nose. “He kept on saying how sorry he was and all, and that he would’ve never hurt my ma. And so I wrote him back and said, I know. I told him about Pepper and Moon. I said I tried to tell but no one was listening. Jesus, I was only ten.”
She studied my face as I thought about what she’d said. I figured she was seeing the chiseled features of a man she could respect. She finally rolled her eyes and went for the money. “You’re not the only tough guy in Boston,” she said.
“There’s another,” I said. “But we work as a team.”
She left the money and looked at me with those sad, tough eyes. Her shoulders slouched some more, and she dug her hands deeper into the pockets of her old parka. The pink hat looked shabby. She reminded me a lot of Paul Giacomin when I’d first met him. Nobody in his corner.
“Anyone else see your mom taken by these guys?”
“I don’t know,” Mattie said. “Nobody wants to talk about it. And nobody wants to help.”
She blinked hard, and rubbed her eyes with her tiny, balled-up fists. She sighed. “This was a stupid idea.”
“Wait a second.”
She stood up, eyes lingering on me. I pushed the money back across my desk.
“You’re in luck, Mattie Sullivan,” I said. “I’m running a special this week.”
“What’s the special?”
“Investigative services in exchange for more of these,” I said, holding up a donut.
“Are you shitting me?” she asked.
“I shit you not.”
What People are Saying About This
"Ace Atkins has proven an exceptionally talented writer.... Taking on the challenge of continuing the much-loved Spenser series is a daunting task. Ace Atkins responds with a knock-out punch in round one. Parker would most definitely approve.
“It’s all there: The crisp, rhythmic sentences. The ironic banter. The distinctly Spenserian attitude toward life that Atkins adopted as his own. And yet, those who have read both Parker and Atkins closely may also detect a muted, indefinable quality that’s pure Atkins. And that’s a very good thing…. Parker lives. Spenser is back.”
—Bruce DeSilva, Edgar Award Winning author of Cliff Walk
“It's the real deal. Atkins captures Parker's distinctive voice, the sardonic, self-deprecating, sharply observant first-person narration that makes the Spenser books so compelling, and so much fun.”
—Tampa Bay Times
“In Lullaby, Ace Atkins has brought back everything we love about Robert B. Parker’s Boston P.I. Spenser, and he makes it look seamless and easy…. Atkins takes the reins of the Spenser series with self-assured ease. He also proves he’s the right man for the job.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I started "Lullaby" with trepidation: RBP was my favorite author and I've been reading Spenser since 1974. I am pleased to say that Ace Atkins has truly captured the nuance of RBP's style of writing and the dialogue is as sharp as ever. There is a freshness added to the mix that reminds me of the best Spenser books of the 70's thru the early 90"s. I'm extremely impressed and satisfied that Mr. Atkins is truly the man to carry on the Spenser novels, and I cannot wait for the next one to be published !
Robert B. Parker passed away just over two years ago. With the blessings of his estate, Parker's iconic characters - Jesse Stone and Spenser will continue to live on the written page. Author Ace Atkins was chosen to continue the tale of Boston P.I. Spenser. It's always a gamble for a publisher to have someone new take on the voice of a character so many have read and loved. I really enjoyed Ace Atkins' first book The Ranger last year (review here) and am eagerly awaiting the second. Atkins himself credits Parker with his direction in life. "I got into writing crime fiction because of Bob Parker," Atkins says. "For my 21st birthday, my mom waited in line for an hour at a bookstore in Atlanta to get a signed copy of (Parker's) Double Deuce. It was the greatest birthday present ever, and it shaped what I ended up doing for a living. I wanted to grow up to be Robert Parker." So I had a feeling that things might turn out okay...and I was right. Fourteen year old Mattie Parker stops by Spenser's office, looking to hire him. Her mom was killed four years ago. Although there's a man doing time for her murder, Mattie says he didn't do it. She know who really did - she saw them. Something about the girl - mostly her attitude - radiates with Spenser, so look into her case. And he finds she might be right...... The trademark short snappy dialogue is there from page one and never lets up. Spenser's wry outlook, his witty wise cracking repartee with Hawk and his smooth as silk interactions with Susan all ring true. Spenser's love of food, drink, good music and literature are all lovingly continued and described. Favourite characters make a return - Hawk is just as big and bad as ever, but Atkins gives him a soft spot that was unexpected. We really know nothing of Hawk's past. Mattie's plight leads him to reveal something Spenser wasn't even aware of after twenty odd years. Susan is just as stunning, sexy and wise as always. And Pearl the Wonder Dog hasn't changed a bit. Many characters from previous books are mentioned or appear in Lullaby. So the characters, settings, actions and dialogue are all ringing true. But what about the plot? Well, it was just as good. Mattie was a tough, but vulnerable character in a tough situation. I wonder if she'll be brought back in future books, in the same way that Paul Giacomin was? Short chapters, lots of action and Spenser's unerring sense of justice made this a quick read that ended before I knew it. Spenser lives on - the tough guy with a soft heart. Atkins has chosen to not tinker with the characters too much. Definitely the right decision. No, it's not Robert Parker, but it's really damn close. Kudos to Atkins - he's done a fantastic job. Fans of Spenser will want to pick this one up - and the next one. I will be.
Great book. Ace Atkins did a great job. I loved being back in Spenser's world. Didn't want it to end. Please write more!!
Ace Atkins has done a fine job with the characters Robert Parker Spenser fans have come to love: Spenser, Susan, Hawk, Vinne, and many more. The story is new, but the tone and characters are familiar -- old friends. A thoroughly enjoyable read!
Sorry, couldn't resist! Seriously, I was skeptical about a strange author taking over the Spenser franchise from my favorite author, but in my opinion, the transition was nearly seamless. Atkins showed his respect for RBP and his knowledge of Spenser and other characters as well as RBP's writing style. There were a very few instances where I thought "that's not Parker" or " Spenser wouln't do that". Well done Ace! That said, this was a good story. Maddie was a little too tough for my taste, but later in the story, the little girl side of her comes out. There are enough twists and complications to make it unpredictable. Enjoy the ride!
Lullaby is a brilliant progression of Robert Parker's Spenser. It is written with the snappy, witty dialogue that you loved from Robert Parker. I laughed out loud several times while reading this book and enjoyed every bit of it. I'll be seeking out more from Ace Atkins. Susan, Rita, Hawk and even Pearl the dog are all present and add richness to the story. Read it. You'll be happy you did.
After reading Michael Brandman's horrible take on Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone I wasn't sure that Ace Atkins would do better with Spenser. While not up to RBP's high standards Mr. Atkins did a credible job in capturing most of Spenser's personality. The plot moves along and most of the nuances are there. Fans will be able to keep up with Spenser's exploits without feeling cheated as they would with Brandman's Stone.
This was a great book. Pretty close to Robert Parker's style in dialog and type of story. Please keep writing more Spencer stories and Jess Stone too!
I really enjoyed this tale - the author has Robert Parker's technique down pat. Bravo.
When I read 'Lullaby; I was excited that a worthy writer like Ace Atkins was picking up the mantle of RJP. Mr. Atkins gets everything 98%-plus right in the diaglog and characters, etc. I had been afraid we had seen the last of Spenser and Hawk and Susan but now I was reassured that Atkins could keep these characters alive! Then I realized ..... Atkins isn't going to do any more Spenser books. 'Lullaby' means that Atkins is putting Spenser and company to bed. Alas, I fear, forever. Now I'm in mourning all over again.
I didn't care for this book at all. The dialogue was terrible. The back and forth between Spenser and Hawk, Spenser and Susan, Spenser and Quirk seemed forced. It didn't have the flow of the Parker works and the characters didn't have the same personality. Spenser should have been allowed to ride off into the sunset.
Robert B. Parker passed away just over two years ago. With the blessings of his estate, Parker's iconic characters - Jesse Stone and Spenser will continue to live on the written page. Author Ace Atkins was chosen to continue the tale of Boston P.I. Spenser. It's always a gamble for a publisher to have someone new take on the voice of a character so many have read and loved. I really enjoyed Ace Atkins' first book The Ranger last year and am eagerly awaiting the second. Atkins himself credits Parker with his direction in life. "I got into writing crime fiction because of Bob Parker," Atkins says. "For my 21st birthday, my mom waited in line for an hour at a bookstore in Atlanta to get a signed copy of (Parker's) Double Deuce. It was the greatest birthday present ever, and it shaped what I ended up doing for a living. I wanted to grow up to be Robert Parker." So I had a feeling that things might turn out okay...and I was right. Fourteen year old Mattie Parker stops by Spenser's office, looking to hire him. Her mom was killed four years ago. Although there's a man doing time for her murder, Mattie says he didn't do it. She know who really did - she saw them. Something about the girl - mostly her attitude - radiates with Spenser, so look into her case. And he finds she might be right...... The trademark short snappy dialogue is there from page one and never lets up. Spenser's wry outlook, his witty wise cracking repartee with Hawk and his smooth as silk interactions with Susan all ring true. Spenser's love of food, drink, good music and literature are all lovingly continued and described. Favourite characters make a return - Hawk is just as big and bad as ever, but Atkins gives him a soft spot that was unexpected. We really know nothing of Hawk's past. Mattie's plight leads him to reveal something Spenser wasn't even aware of after twenty odd years. Susan is just as stunning, sexy and wise as always. And Pearl the Wonder Dog hasn't changed a bit. Many characters from previous books are mentioned or appear in Lullaby. So the characters, settings, actions and dialogue are all ringing true. But what about the plot? Well, it was just as good. Mattie was a tough, but vulnerable character in a tough situation. I wonder if she'll be brought back in future books, in the same way that Paul Giacomin was? Short chapters, lots of action and Spenser's unerring sense of justice made this a quick read that ended before I knew it. Spenser lives on - the tough guy with a soft heart. Atkins has chosen to not tinker with the characters too much. Definitely the right decision. No, it's not Robert Parker, but it's really damn close. Kudos to Atkins - he's done a fantastic job. Fans of Spenser will want to pick this one up - and the next one. I will be.
I don't know if I should be reviewing the story or the author who stepped in to write for Robert B. Parker. I've read Ace Atkins before and I think he's a terrific writer - but writing for RBP, not quite. It seemed as if he was trying to write the dialogue as RBP would have written but it just doesn't come off as smooth. The conversations seem stilted. The story is a good one, though. Perhaps if Ace would write as he would write and leave RBP to rest in peace, the story would be better. But then, it wouldn't be RBP, would it?
This is the second Spenser novel finished by Ace Atkins that I have read. It's a good story, told well. The character of Spenser seems to be evolving, a bit, as time goes on. He seems a little less empathetic, a little more worldly than before - or I might just have been tired. In any case, I am so grateful to the folks who are keeping Robert B. Parker's stories coming down the pipe. We need to be weaned properly through withdrawal. And I must admit that though I already loved Ace Atkins, I have added Robert Knott ( who is writing Parker's Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch characters) and Michael Brandman ( finishing and writing Jesse Stone character novels) to my list of must reads in their own right.
I have read all of the Spenser Series, and I was afraid that a new author would change the dynamics between the characters or they would not be who they were before Ace Atkins took up writing the series with the death of Robert B. Parker. I was very impressed, I enjoyed the book and would tell anyone who liked the series before will still enjoy Spenser, Hawk, Susan and the new character Sixkill. It is as if Ace Atkins and Robert Parker are one and the same.
Ace Atkins follows the format for a Spenser mystery by Robert B. Parker. However, he doesn't quite get it, in my opinion. I would encourage him to keep trying. Perhaps his more recent attempt has succeeded. Spenser must be an octengenarian by now, but like Little Orphan Annie, he doesn't see to age much. He is a character worth keeping around and maybe Ace will be able topull it off.
The story line for Spenser and friends continues as if Parker were still alive, but there is a touch of Atkins to tell you it's someone else writing the book. And his writing is not just journeyman level, but masterful. I'm really glad we who are hooked on Parker can continue to enjoy Spenser. We really need a fix from time to time. Please keep all his characters in Boston, coming to us. My only criticism is that Spenser must be getting older and softer. He would never have let Paul get away with behavior like he allowed the the girl to do. But then, Spenser always had a soft spot for females.