Back at the dawn of my marriage, when my hair was still brown and full and our children were mere twinkles in our eyes, I made a rookie mistake.
It was a hot August day. I had a rare weekday off. My wife was working. So I packed my beach chair and Robert B. Parker’s latest book, “Taming a Sea-Horse,’’ and headed to the fabulous East Beach in Watch Hill, R.I.
I spent hours reading and lounging in the sun. Afterward, in an homage to Parker’s ultra-cool protagonist, Spenser, I sat on the porch of the Ocean House, eating shrimp and drinking cold beer. Heaven.
“I just had the best day of my life,’’ I announced when my wife came home after her long commute from Hartford. Long pause. “The best day of your life?’’ she said. “Without me?’’ Damage control was immediate and, if I’m remembering correctly, successful.
That story came back to me a couple of weekends ago, when I returned to the beach, again packing a chair and Spenser, the wise-cracking Boston private investigator who is alive and well despite Parker’s death in 2010, a demise that came at age 77 and after 39 Spenser books that made him a fortune and delighted fans of the detective genre from around the world.
All I can say is: Thank you, Ace Atkins.
Atkins, a former Florida newspaper crime reporter and novelist in his own right, has — with the blessing of the Parker estate — inherited the Spenser franchise. The recently released “Kickback’’ is Atkins’s fourth book in which he channels Parker, whose rhythm, timing, spare prose, and perfectly crafted putdowns are deceptively difficult to master.
“A lot of it is not writing,’’ Atkins told me on the phone from Oxford, Miss., where he lives and writes. “A lot of it is subtraction.’’
A longtime fan of Parker’s Boston private eye, he is a worthy steward, rewarding faithful followers with deft allusions to Spenser’s past and assuring fans of the series that Spenser is alive and well. At Spenser’s office on the corner Berkeley and Boylston, the coffee pot still sits atop the dented filing cabinet and the gun is still in the top drawer.
“I know what fans like and what they would expect,’’ Atkins said. “I’m the person hired to keep Spenser going in modern Boston.’’
Before her death in 2013, Parker’s widow, Joan, encouraged Atkins to place his own imprint on Parker’s cast of characters, employing a fresh voice to assure that Spenser does not languish as some gumshoe relic fixed in time.
So Atkins has given Spenser a smartphone. And he’s put some miles on the guy. “I’ve allowed him to age just a little bit,’’ he said. “That’s something Bob never did, but I figured after so many fights he would at least have some kind of knee injury.’’
Atkins has made Hawk, the coolest and deadliest wingman of all time, edgier and even more menacing.
Careful readers will detect a few clues that it is Atkins, and not Parker, at the keyboard. There’s a reference to a corrupt Massachusetts judge being elected. Judges don’t face the voters here. At one point, Spenser opens a beer and turns on the “Bruins match.’’ Match?
But these are quibbles. Spenser’s true love, Susan Silverman, is as gorgeous as ever. Whip-smart and sassy, she’s still sipping a micron of champagne. Spenser, true to form, is quoting literary lions and whipping up culinary masterpieces. Boston’s own Robin Young of WBUR and NPR’s “Here & Now” gets a shoutout. Ditto for Bill Buckner and Mookie Wilson.
It was a pleasure to have him back with me on the beach recently. The sun was a yellow wafer, gliding toward the western horizon, as my wife and I nibbled on appetizers and sipped ice-cold beer.
“Should we have another?’’ she asked.
I pictured Spenser at the bar at the old Ritz, lifting a frosty bottle of Catamount Gold Lager. And I knew just what to say.
“We’d be fools not to,’’ I told her.