Tom Fowler

Mystery and Thriller Writer

Tag: spenser

Spenser Confidential: Thoughts on the Trailer

The trailer for Spenser Confidential dropped recently. Let’s just say I have some thoughts. 

There’s some definite star power attached here, encompassing the three male leads, the director, and musician Post Malone. But is this Spenser?

Before we delve too deeply into the answer, I also recorded a YouTube video on this. You can view it here. My channel is still new as of this writing, so I’d appreciate any likes and subscribes you can provide.

The big question I posed above was: is this Spenser?

No. Not as we know him, at least.

Before you tell me I’m a fan of the books who’s bitter over the adaptation, hear me out. This isn’t the Spenser we know because I don’t think he’s designed to be. While the movie’s IMDB page is pretty light, Wikipedia tells us the characters are basically just named after their literary counterparts. It also says the story is “very loosely based” on Wonderland, the second Spenser novel Ace Atkins wrote after Robert B. Parker’s death. It’s probably my favorite of the Atkins books.

This doesn’t look like the Wonderland I remember, just like these don’t look like the Spenser and Hawk we know. Like I said, I think this is by design. The movie needs to appeal to as many people as possible. Crime fiction fans know and love the characters, but outside of our sphere, how many do? Some folks may remember the 1980s Spenser: For Hire TV series (I do). Many may not—and many people watching the movie may have been born after it folded its production tents. 

Spenser Confidential poster

From the trailer, I think this is a buddy PI movie. It’ll have action, fistfights, some gunplay, and laughs. Many movies pepper these elements in successfully. Spenser and Hawk may have some humorous banter, but it won’t carry the gravitas it does in the novels.

Just because a film is “very loosely based” on a book doesn’t mean it’s bad. They’re different media, so I don’t think we could ever have a completely faithful adaptation. Look at The Bourne Identity. It borrowed a few elements from the Robert Ludlum novel, modernized a couple others, but for the most part, the movie told its own story. The second and third films in the series shared nothing with their source novels apart from names.

And they were great. 

Fans of the TV show will remember Avery Brooks as Hawk. How could you not? He owned the role like he’d been born to play it. He was cool, badass, poignant, and funny all at once. I like Winston Duke as an actor, and he may do a great job in this movie, but the shadow of Avery Brooks looms large. Robert Urich was a good Spenser in my opinion—this is far from universal—even though he wasn’t a perfect physical match. He captured the sincerity, glibness, and overall attitude of the character well. 

Whether you love or hate Susan, by the way, she’s not in Spenser Confidential. Iliza Shlesinger is credited as playing a character named Cissy. Susan wasn’t in the first novel, but omitting her from a movie really drives home the fact this isn’t the literary Spenser.

Will I see it? Yes. A friend of mine, talking about the uneven quality of Star Trek shows, says, “Bad Trek is better than no Trek.” I’ll port it over here and say this: Spenser in name only is better than no Spenser.

After I see Spenser Confidential once or twice, I’ll be back with some thoughts on it. Let’s cross our fingers and hope the star power pulls through. 

Review: Little White Lies

Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies, by Ace Atkins.

Little White Lies is Ace Atkins’ sixth Spenser book since the Robert B. Parker estate chose him to continue the series following Parker’s death. The books have ranged from just OK (Kickback) to quite good (Wonderland). Little White Lies lands solidly toward the very good end of the scale.

The venerable Spenser gets a referral from his longtime lover Susan Silverman. Connie Kelly wants him to find M. Brooks Welles, an alleged former CIA operative and current commentator who swindled her out of about $300,000 in a real estate scam. Spenser soon learns Welles is a phony; he fabricated his intelligence background and the resulting expertise he claims.

Cover of Little White Lies

It doesn’t take long for Spenser to tie Welles to a local gun club and its owner, Johnny Gredoni, who also seems to be involved in the land swindle. The ATF’s interest means Gredoni (and maybe Welles) are running guns. Spenser soon finds Welles and the two men are shot at, and then Gredoni is killed. Now Spenser has to find Welles again, and he does, as Welles surfaces as Pastor Wells (no E) in the Atlanta suburbs. (Connie, still in love with Well(s)s for some reason, also winds up there.) With longtime ally Hawk in tow, along with Tedy Sapp and the ATF, Spenser goes after Well(e)s and his gun-running friends.

Little White Lies is a solid entry in the Spenser series. Ace Atkins has been on the Spenser beat for six years and, in that time, he has found the voice of not only our intrepid hero, but also the supporting characters. Hawk, Susan, Frank Belson, even Henry Cimoli, all sound like they did in the Parker heyday. That’s no easy feat. Atkins doesn’t write his own books in Parker’s sparse style but he’s done a better job of replicating it as the series has gone on.

The last several Spenser books that Parker wrote didn’t measure up to the best in the series. The plots were a little thinner, and the stories more reliant on dialogue than narrative. Still, each book had some true Spenser moments, as well as the snappy dialogue Parker wrote in every book. Little White Lies is a good book and, more importantly, a good Spenser book. Welles, as the villain, is easy to dislike but not without charisma. (He’s probably based in part on former commentator Wayne Simmons, accused of fabricating his CIA background and defrauding a lover in a real estate scam in 2013.) If you’re a Parker loyalist who has been skeptical of the Atkins Spenser books, shelve that and pick this one up. I think you’ll like it.

Recommended for Spenser fans, Atkins fans, and mystery readers in general.

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