“Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes”
Author: Ace Atkins
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Price: $27.00 (Hardcover)
Ace Atkins has a pile of stand-alone mysteries, and the Sheriff Quinn Colson series, set in Mississippi, and since 2010 and the death of Robert Parker, eight Spenser novels. Spenser, the private eye, spelled with an s, like the poet, practices his craft in Boston. The novels are a pleasure to read partly because it’s fun to watch him team up with his terrifying friend Hawk and move around Boston: to the Common, to see the swan boats, cross over into Cambridge to visit Spenser’s girlfriend, the beautiful and sophisticated psychotherapist Susan Silverman, drink a martini and cook dinner.
But in “Angel Eyes” Spenser is hired to find a young Boston woman who has moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career and has disappeared. Her mother is worried and wants Gabrielle “Gabby” Leggett, 24, found.
Spenser checks into his hotel and goes to work, aided by Zebulon “Z” Sixkill, a gigantic Cree Indian P.I., who had been mentored by Spenser.
This is contemporary California. Spenser, like this reader, is astonished to learn Gabby, besides modeling and some acting gigs, is, on Instagram, an “influencer.”
Sixkill explains: “good work if you can find it. These people don’t have to pay for a damn thing. They get comped clothes, meals, hotels.”
Spenser would like to be an influencer. He suggests he could influence “beer and donut consumption.”
Where is Gabby? There are too many leads.
Gabby had broken up with her agent/boyfriend, Eric Collinson. He took the rejection hard.
Gabby was in an acting class. Her coach, has-been actor Jeffrey Bloom, is a suspect.
However, the aging Bloom tells Spenser, “After five wives, I’ve learned to stay far and away from these hungry young creatures.”
Checking out a nightclub she frequented, Mirabeau on Sunset, Spenser observes “bald fat guys gyrating their hips against the backsides of the much younger women. He wondered what Jane Goodall would think.”
This is not Spenser in Boston. “Angel Eyes” is a fish-out-of-water novel with all its virtues and drawbacks.
Later in the story the Santa Ana winds arise. Z tells him “they make people crazy.” Spenser replies, “Out here…how can you tell?”
Inevitably, the clues lead to mega-producer James Yamashiro, Hollywood mogul.
Collinson tells Spenser: “Yamashiro is a collector of beautiful young women. As you can imagine, he brokers favors for jobs.”
Yamashiro admits to an affair with Gabby but insists it was consensual and tells Spenser “my wife and I have a strong and very modern relationship. She knows I am a grown man with lots of pressure and many needs.”
True enough, but Yamashiro also has a reputation as something of a sadist, a monster of the casting couch who uses up young women and discards them. Also, it seems Gabby has tried to blackmail him with a secret sex tape he admits would be embarrassing in these days of Me Too, open marriage or not.
As if these awful men were not enough, Gabby, a spiritual “searcher,” has fallen in with Helios, worshippers of the sun, a cult ruled by Joseph Haldorn, a gigantic fraud.
Self-proclaimed genius, concert pianist, world class sprinter, this “guru” has “long gray hair and a long gray beard, a tattered corduroy jacket over a Western shirt.…Lots of silver jewelry.”
“The jewelry on one wrist looked like he’d looted the tomb of an Egyptian cat.”
To Spenser, he looks like “a guy rattling a change bucket along Newbury Street.”
Helios is a peculiar variety of sex cult. It seems no one knows exactly what they do. There are expensive fees, and one may rise in the ranks of Helios. Helios is described by its leaders as both a “family” and a “lifestyle.”
Helios, we are told in their propaganda, “empowers” women, which seems to mean, oddly, brainwashing them and then both monetizing and weaponizing their sexuality against the male predators of this toxic testosterone cinema world.
Not to be perverse, but I found this novel too packed, too busy, too many things going on at once. Spenser is targeted by the Armenian mob, really vicious guys led by one Vartan Sarkisov, who are only afraid of the Mexican cartel killers, also a threat.
I could have stood a lot more Haldorn and Helios. These are fascinating creations and Atkins doesn’t exploit them enough.
And I felt like Spenser sometimes. I didn’t think I understood the forces at work in LA—and I missed Boston.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.