Twenty years after a storied theft from a Boston institution—no, not the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum—the powers that be want Spenser, another Boston institution, to recover three stolen artworks that are still missing.
Spenser, who wouldn’t be interested in the Winthrop Museum’s problems if Locke, a dying colleague who’s been keeping an eye on it for two decades, hadn’t entreated him, agrees to grab the reins even though he’s not crazy about temperamental Winthrop director Marjorie Ward Phillips, and museum board chairman Topper Townsend’s not crazy about him. The real prize among the three is El Greco’s The Gentleman in Black, valued at $60 million to $70 million. But it’s the promise that by paying $500,000 she can buy back one of the others, an early Picasso drawing, that hooks Large Marj into agreeing to a trade-off that goes predictably awry, leaving Spenser with undeserved egg on his face. Replaced by Townsend’s choice, Paul Marston, a British private investigator as objectionable as he is incompetent, Spenser, now free to pursue the standing $5 million reward the museum’s offered, works his contacts twice as hard. Certain that the crooks must have been amateurs who had inside help, he soon starts to see connections between the perps and the Boston mob. The trouble is that it’s been so long since the job was pulled that the cops who originally worked the case for the Boston PD and the FBI are mostly retired. Even worse, the mob has gone through even more personnel changes, and the guys most likely to know anything about the heist have long been unavailable for questioning.
The case gets successively murkier, but Atkins, in his best imitation of Parker’s voice to date, never gets lazy. Readers who approach the last chapter anticipating relief at finally seeing the case solved should be warned that a final twist virtually guarantees a sequel.