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'Someone to Watch Over Me' review: Spenser tracks down sexual predators

Ace Atkins puits Spensder back on the case

Ace Atkins puits Spensder back on the case in "Robert B. Parker's Someone to Watch Over Me." Credit: Joe Wortham

ROBERT B. PARKER'S SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME by Ace Atkins (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 306 pp., $27)

Nine years ago, Ace Atkins published "Lullaby," his first novel about Boston private detective Spenser, the creation of Robert B. Parker who wrote 39 bestselling novels about the wisecracking tough guy before his death in 2010.

In his ninth Spenser novel, "Someone to Watch Over Me," Atkins brings back a central character from "Lullaby" — Mattie Sullivan, a relentless street kid from South Boston, a 14-year-old orphan intent on punishing the man who murdered her mother. Spenser helped her solve that crime, and now grown-up Mattie wants to be an investigator, too.

Chloe Turner, the 15-year-old sister of a friend, has come to Mattie for help. Mattie, in turn, enlists Spenser. Chloe, hoping to make an easy $500, gets a job at a private men's club to give a massage — just a massage — to "an old dude." The woman at the club who hands Chloe an envelope of cash tells her to pay special attention to the man’s feet.

When things take a weird sexual turn, Chloe bolts, leaving her backpack and laptop behind. The people at the club refuse to give them back.Spenser urges Chloe to talk to the police — this is not just a theft but a sex crime. Chloe wants it all to go away. But Mattie is determined to find out more, and Spenser can’t say no to his protege.

There’s never just one victim, of course. One underage girl leads to another, and another, all with similar stories: A friend or acquaintance introduced them to a middle-aged woman with a British accent, "some rich lady. Drives a fancy car, clothes outta Newbury Street window, lots of jewelry."Spenser does some online detecting and finds that the woman, Poppy Palmer, is a socialite who runs a vague consulting firm and is photographed at many fancy parties, often in the company of a man named Peter Steiner, "medium-sized and silver-haired, with dark tan skin and a face some women might consider handsome."

Atkins paints a chilling portrait of Steiner and Palmer, their relationship a well-honed teamwork of predators. Palmer in particular is frighteningly adept at choosing victims, zeroing in on weakness when she spots girls who are lonely, unhappy, unsure of themselves.

Spenser’s longtime love, Susan Silverman, is on hand to offer her psychological insights into sexual predators. Also on hand is Pearl the Wonder Dog, the German short-haired pointer who serves as Spenser’s and Susan’s fur kid. There have been two Pearls, and the second one has recently died. Spenser has acquired a third Pearl, a tornado of a puppy who chews up Susan’s Jimmy Choos and anything else she can get her tiny teeth into.

Susan refuses to call the dog Pearl, and it’s not about the Choos or even about not buying into Spenser’s theory of dog reincarnation. It’s about loss and how we deal with it, about the violent risks of Spenser’s work, about the futility and necessity of doing the right thing even when it costs us dearly.

That’s a lot to put on a puppy, but she is the third Pearl the Wonder Dog.

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