Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Boston P.I. Spenser Takes on the Private Prison Racket in This Excellent Novel from Ace Atkins

This may well be the best Spenser novel in a good long time, including many of the last books in the series that were written by Robert B. Parker himself. 

As most fans of crime fiction know, the series is now being written by Ace Atkins, who currently has an excellent series of his own featuring a Mississippi sheriff named Quinn Colson. This book has all the familiar touchstones of a Spenser novel, including the Boston setting; Hawk, the very dangerous sidekick; Susan, the romantic interest that so many fans of the series love to hate; Pearl, the wonder dog; a lot of beer, donuts and other culinary delights; and, of course, the irrepressible wisecracking P.I., Spenser himself.

What sets this novel apart from so many of the recent books in the series is that this one tackles head-on a major problem of the modern era, the private prison racket that is doing so much damage to the nation's penal system and which is also corrupting the politics in so many states. 

As the book opens a woman appears in Spenser's office asking for help. Her son has been sentenced to nine months in a tough-love juvenile facility that is run by a private prison company. The boy's offense was to ridicule the vice principal of his high school on a fake Twitter account, and it turns out that he's only one of hundreds of young people sentenced to this prison for relatively minor offenses by a judge who poses as a strict law-and-order guy, but who has suspiciously close ties to the company that runs the juvenile facility.

The boy and his mother, as well as a lot of the other young victims of this system, live in a small, down-at-the-heels town near Boston. Most of the people are poor; they can't afford attorneys, and they don't really understand what they are doing when they agree to consign their children to the horrors of this system. But once Spenser starts poking around, he discovers a great deal of rot at the core of this whole mess and, being Spenser, he won't let go until he has thoroughly roiled the pot.

It's a very compelling and entertaining story that allows Spenser to shoot off his mouth with great frequency as he takes on corrupt judges, venal lawyers and other powerful figures, as well as any number of "organized" crime members. There's enough action and other violence to keep things interesting and a plot that will leave any reader with a conscience seething. All in all, it's another great installment in the Spenser saga from an author who has made Spenser and the world he inhabits his own.

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