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'Robert B. Parker's Slow Burn' by Ace Atkins.

A troubling series of fires in mostly abandoned Boston buildings turns deadly in "Robert B. Parker's Slow Burn," the latest crime thriller in the long-running but still potent Spenser series.

Spenser, a private detective, is called upon when the arson unit of the fire department hits dead ends investigating a fire at an old, shut-down Catholic church. Three firefighters entering the church died when flames erupted into a sudden inferno.

Arson is suspected, but a motive remains unclear and more fires leave the city on edge as Spenser's probe takes a wrong turn, putting his own life in danger.

This is the fifth Spenser novel by Ace Atkins since the Robert B. Parker estate asked the Southern writer to relocate part of the year in Boston and continue the series after Parker's death. As was clear from the start, Atkins deftly recreates the Spenser character and his Boston milieu, making the reading a familiar, pleasurable trip.

In "Slow Burn," Atkins also includes touches that remind us how long Spenser has been on the job as a private eye and how many years he and Susan Silverman have relished a sensuous but live-apart romance. In a short diversion, Spenser takes Susan on a birthday trip to a Hyannis, Mass., resort where they had spent a memorable visit more than 20 years earlier.


Twenty years! Do private eyes and their girlfriends grow old? Are they actually mortal?

Let's just say Spenser and Susan have aged well. He runs, works out, boxes with his younger, athletically gifted Native American friend, Zebulon Sixkill; the fearsome Hawk still has his back. And Susan can still turn heads, at poolside or by candlelight.

It doesn't appear they will exit their Boston stage anytime soon. A few plot twists in "Slow Burn" leave loose ends and raise the likelihood that Atkins will have another Spenser case to solve next year.