This is a very mixed bag of an audiobook. I loved the novel 3 years ago, and enjoyed reliving it. But man, the narration was just not my thing. But I'll get back to that in a bit.
I stand by pretty much everything that I said 3 years ago (although, I seem to have missed/underrated one plot point last time -- I totally bought it this time). Here's some of what I said before that still applies:
On the one hand, this is not Atkins' best Spenser. But it's the one that feels like Parker more than the rest (make of that what you will). The banter, the poking around and stirring things up until you get a break, the fisticuffs, the donuts, the gun fight, the needling of underworld players, and so on -- he captures Parker's voice and pacing better here than he'd managed before (yet doesn't come across as pastiche). Spenser's sniffing around the big money and big boys (and a few men) in sports, which serve as a good place for Spenser to reflect how men are to act. Parker did this Mortal Stakes and Playmates (and to lesser extents elsewhere -- like Early Autumn), and Atkins is able to do that here (arguably he does so with a subtlety that Parker didn't achieve).
Kinjo Heywood's a fun character -- slightly more grounded than Mortal Stakes' Marty Rabb, far more mature and grounded than Playmates' Dwayne Woodcock. One advantage Heywood has is his son, Akira (who's plenty of fun on his own) -- he has someone to provide a good example to, and he strives to. Heywood also seems to have thought ore about life and how one should live it. Marty seemed to think only about Linda (his wife) and baseball, Dwayne was all about his girlfriend (Chantel) and basketball, too -- but with less self-examination, it's just that's all he had the chance to think about (although Chantel would see that changed, and his horizons broadened if she had anything to say about it). Heywood's got a kid, he's been through a divorce, and is fully aware of his place in the limelight (including social media) and his own shortcomings. This alone saves the book from being a reworking of Parker.
I should add that Sixkill has a lot of perspective here (with the assistance of Atkins' own background in football) -- he was close to Heywood's level, and if he'd made one or two better choices, he would've been at this level. He has a better idea what's going on in Heywood's mind than Spenser and his brief stint in the boxing world would.
The book begins with Spenser doing bodyguard duty -- and as always (Stardust, Looking For Rachel Wallace, A Savage Place, Rough Weather) things don't go well. You'd think people'd stop hiring him for this kind of work. Spenser turns to investigating -- and unearthing lie after lie from his client -- while getting Hawk and Sixkill to pitch in on the bodyguard front.
In addition to the main characters, Hawk, Susan, Sixkill, Tony Marcus, and so on; Atkins continues to show a command and familiarity with the impressive gallery of supporting characters in the Spenser-verse. And the new characters fit into the 'verse just fine, nothing that Parker wouldn't have created.
Not only did Atkins give us a good story this time, he appeared to be planting and/or watering seeds for future books at the same time -- something Parker never bothered with, but I'm glad to see.
About the only thing I'd like to add on this front is that I think I liked the story more this time around.
So much for the lovefest. I just didn't like Mantegna's work. I know, I know -- he's done many, many of the Spenser Audiobooks; Parker loved his work with Spenser (even getting him cast in those semi-regrettable movies); and he's Joe bleepin' Mantegna. Still, it didn't work for me. When he was reading the narrative parts -- Spenser describing what he was doing, what he was seeing, etc., even making smart aleck asides -- I dug it. He did a perfectly entertaining job -- maybe even more.
But the strength of Parker's work was his dialogue, and Mantegna fell flat (at best) on this front. Spenser sounds like Fat Tony, which just should not be. Ever. Kinjo sounds like a stereotypical old blues man, not a young NFL linebacker. Hawk sounds like a slightly younger blues man. And don't get me started on Zee. That was just embarrassing. Most of the other characters were pretty poorly done, as well. And when the book is so reliant on dialogue, so reliant on the charm of the characters, that missing with just about all of them hurts.
So, like I said, great writing, mediocre (when not disappointing) narration. Please note this rating is for the Audiobook -- the whole experience, the narration as well as the writing -- still love the book, and would recommend the novel in a heartbeat. This? Eh. It was entertaining enough, but that's it. Still, any time with Spenser is time well spent.