I was apprehensive when I picked up "Lullaby," the first Spenser novel written by someone other than the late great Robert Parker. And two things immediately deepened my apprehension. On the cover, in bigger type than anything else, it read "Robert Parker's Lullaby." And then a couple of pages in, the book was dedicated, as always, "To Joan," Parker's wife. The whole idea of having someone else continue the Spenser series after Parker's death now seemed creepy. But then came this exchange on page 6: "You're not the only tough guy in Boston," says Mattie, a teen who wants to hire Spenser to look into her mother's death. "There's another," Spenser says. "But we work as a team." From that moment on, I was comfortable - make that thrilled - that, while Parker is gone, Spenser (and Hawk, Susan and Pearl the dog) is still with us. Parker's estate picked Ace Atkins to continue the long-running PI series, and it's hard to imagine a better choice. Atkins nails the characters and Boston - and the dialogue, which was Parker's calling hard, is spot-on and often laugh-out-loud funny. I'm a fan of Atkins and expected "Lullaby" to be good. But I didn't expect it to be the best mystery I've read this year.
- TIM COTTER