This is the third Spenser novel written by Ace Atkins, the designated flamekeeper of the series after the demise of the legendary Robert B. Parker. OK, so this practice is somewhat ghoulish and exploitative, designed to make the cash registers ring on. Unless you're blocking Amazon ads—and you shouldn't, they're very tasteful—note the relative sizes of the names over there on the cover. What are they really selling?
But it works, thanks to folks like me: I kind of want to know what Spenser is up to, badly enough to shell out for the dead-trees hardcover. It's a funny old world.
And I'm happy to report that Atkins is really hitting his stride. As a devoted-over-decades reader of the series, I can tell the differences. (For example, Spenser's squeeze, Susan, seems to drop a lot more F-bombs in this book than I remember her doing in the past.) But those differences are small, and do not detract from the book. I can't imagine anyone doing a better job at this than Atkins. Spenser is still a wiseacre, to the consternation of his enemies, and even many of his friends. Hawk is still a formidable ally. The new guy, Zebulon Sixkill, is coming along nicely. Despite the fact that the primary characters were middle-aged in the 1970s, they still are.
So, on to the story: Pats middle linebacker Kinjo Heywood is convinced someone's out to get him. Spenser is hired to watch over Kinjo, his bimbo wife Cristal, and adorable son Akira. (The Heywood family is kind of into Japanese culture.) Spenser is somewhat convinced it's just paranoia, caused by the normal crap endured by a multi-millionaire NFL superstar, but then someone kidnaps the kid. Spenser has to go through Kinjo's dirty-laundry history (and that of his family), which involves…
Well, Raymond Chandler said it pretty well:
Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.
Parker had this paragraph engraved on his heart, and so does Atkins.
Consumer notes: the cover has a fish. There are fish in the book, but (spoiler non-alert) they do not play any major role in the plot. Also the title, Cheap Shot: unless I missed something, it is seemingly unrelated to anything that actually happens in the book. And—hey, waitaminnit—isn't an important plot component here kind of a ripoff from a Mel Gibson movie?
But, bottom line, it's good. It's fun. I can't imagine Spenser fans being disappointed.