Book Review:  Two By Two Of My Favorites

Publication Date:  November 2019

Review, short version:  Four roses out of four for both.

Review, long version:

Robert B. Parker

I recently had the good fortune of learning that books by two of my favorite authors were being released at around the same time.

That meant hours of great reading straight ahead!

But, to clarify:  “Books by two of my favorite authors” is a bit of a misnomer.  Those authors, Dick Francis and Robert B. Parker, are, sadly, deceased – Parker in January 2010 and Francis in February 2010.

But – happily – their quality books are still being written, Francis’ by his son Felix, and Parker’s by novelist Ace Atkins.

Prior to their deaths, Robert B. Parker and Dick Francis were prolific writers – Parker had several series with different lead characters, but I’m focusing on his Boston detective who goes by one name:  “Spenser.”  This list includes the recent additions by Ace Atkins:

Parker Books (2)

Here are the books Francis wrote solo, wrote with his son Felix, and that Felix has written solo:

Francis Books (2)

Both series are mysteries, Parker with his detective, Spenser, and Francis mostly with a different lead character in each book.  Parker’s Spenser series is sequential, and I recommend reading them starting with his earliest, The Godwulf Manuscript, published in 1973.  It’s the best way to see Spenser evolve, and keep track of other characters who appear, and then reappear in later books.

The Francis books don’t have to be read in sequence, though several of his lead characters do make later appearances so I’ll recommend reading those in order as well, starting with Dead Cert in 1962.

Dick Francis

While both authors’ lead character is a first-person narrator, their approach is very different.  Spenser is a delightful wise ass; the Francis lead characters tend to have more gravitas.  Spenser lives in Boston and many books are set there, with some elsewhere.  The common thread in the Francis books is the connection to horse racing, though I’ll emphasize that these are not horse racing books.

For instance, in Francis’ most recent, Guilty Not Guilty, the lead character is a volunteer steward at a racetrack but with a full-time job in insurance.  What all of Francis’ lead characters do have in common is a common-man-gets-into-big-trouble theme – and how will he get himself out of it?

Parker’s detective Spenser usually gets hired by a client who may or may not have something to hide.  Spenser is sometimes the hardboiled private investigator, sometimes the compassionate hero, and always the smart mouth.  In Ace Atkins’ latest, Angel Eyes, Spenser has a mystery to solve and lives to save – including his own.

When Francis and Parker died barely a month apart in 2010, I was sincerely sad.

And when I learned that Ace Atkins would continue the Spenser series, and Felix Francis would continue in his father’s tradition – I was skeptical.  I felt there was no way their books would be anything but poor substitutes, would fade, and be forgotten.

But…wrong_01 cropped

I’m delighted to say that both Ace Atkins and Felix Francis are doing a wonderful job, staying true to their predecessors’ “voices,” and delivering highly readable, entertaining and satisfying stories.

I’ve read all of Parker’s Spenser series, and all the Francis books, and enjoyed every one of them.  I’m hopeful that a new book from each will be out next year.


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