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There is yet another new Spenser novel on sales this week, "Silent Night," and unlike the efforts by the excellent Ace Atkins - "Lullaby," "Wonderland," and the coming-soon "Cheap Shot" - this one actually was penned by Robert B. Parker before he passed away in January 2010.

At least part of it was. "Silent Night," described as "a Spenser holiday novel," was started by Parker, who reportedly died at his desk while working on it. He'd written just 17 pages, and the balance has been completed by Helen Brann, his longtime agent.

It is hard to tell how good a writer Brann is, simply because "Silent Night" shows her channeling Parker ... and she does a pretty good job. It helps, I think, that Parker gives her a running start with a classic Spenser setup - he's in his office at Christmastime, hanging out with Pearl the Wonder Dog, musing about the mythic and commercial aspects of the holidays, when a kid walks in and asks for help.

From there, Brann spins a highly recognizable Spenser tale - it's got all the elements Parker's fans have grown to love. Boxing and food. Hawk and Susan. Contemplations about morality and mortality. Odes to Boston in the wintertime. And typically wiseacre dialog.

There is a bittersweetness about this tale because we know it represents Parker's last work, and because Brann - unlike Atkins, who is charged with advancing the series - seems to have as her chief goal creating a kind of memorial to Parker. That's more than a semantic difference, and I think it shows in the writing. But I'm okay with it.

At some level, the efforts by a variety of authors to continue much-loved Parker characters may be confusing to some readers. Atkins is doing a wonderful job with the Spenser series, while Michael Brandman (with the Jesse Stone books) and Robert Knott (with the Hitch-and-Cole westerns) are less so, simply because they are not natural novelists, though they seem to be getting better with each new turn. I'm not terribly concerned with the sanctity of the Parker oeuvre ... after all, he completed an unfinished Raymond Chandler novel, "Poodle Springs," and then wrote an original novel, "Perchance to Dream," that featured Chandler's private eye hero, Philip Marlowe. And Parker used to say that he did not worry about other iterations of his books, since he reasoned that he could only do what he could do, which was to write the best books he could. After that, everything else was commerce ... and he was not adverse to making a buck.

If you're a Spenser fan, "Silent Night" is certainly worth picking up, reading, and adding to your collection. I enjoyed it. It ain't Parker, but it makes a cold autumn evening go by faster while we wait for "Cheap Shot," by Ace Atkins, which will be published next May. (I've already ordered my copy from Amazon.)




Last weekend, I had a a choice of movies to go see. There was The Fifth Estate, about Wikileaks. There was the new Robert Redford movie, All Is Lost. Or Don Jon. Or a bunch of other movies that have gotten enthusiastic reviews.

But no. Last weekend, because our wives were otherwise engaged, my buddy Mike Wellman and I went to see Escape Plan, the new Sylvester Stallone-Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie about a couple of guys trying to get out of the world's biggest and best high-security prison.

I'm not even going to bother you with a plot description. Suffice it to say that this movie is exactly what you expect it to be. There are lots of fights, explosions, gunplay and macho posturing. But that's not all bad. Especially when afterwards, you hit a local pub for a couple of beers. (Or, in Mike's case, a martini. He's a lot more refined than I am.)

This is my definition of junk food. Sometimes, it is what I crave (and have since I saw the trailer).

I will say this. After all these years, Schwarzenegger still manages to perform with a twinkle, while Stallone has had so much work done on his face that it seems almost impossible for him to emote. Or maybe Schwarzenegger just has a better plastic surgeon. Either way, it's s shame because Stallone has some acting chops, but can't really use them anymore.

I can't say that Escape Plan is a good movie, but I had a reasonable good time at it. Though I do agree with a friend of mine in the movie business, who says that it could have been titled Retirement Plan.

Final irony: one of the trailers was for a movie called Grudge Match, a comedy that stars Robert De Niro and Stallone as long-retired boxers who decide to go into the ring one last time for a, yes, grudge match. De Niro, of course, was in the classic Raging Bull, and Stallone was Rocky. On one level, it looks awful and almost sacrilegious. And I can't wait.





I have a lovely white wine to recommend to you this week - the 2012 Carlton Cellars Pinot Blanc, from Oregon, which is bright and fresh and perfect with the frittata I made the other night for dinner.




That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

Slàinte!
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