As I said last year when Lupica debuted his continuation of the Sunny Randall books with Blood Feud, I’ve had a complicated relationship with Sunny and was ambivalent with the series re-starting. However, I enjoyed Blood Feud (although comments on my post said I came across as lukewarm, I didn’t mean to) and really thought that Lupica had a good take on the character.
Thankfully, we don’t have a sophomore slump here, I think Lupica’s feeling more comfortable in these shoes and delivered something a little more ambitious. Tony Marcus begins this book by describing the best way to hold a grudge—and then goes on to point out all the reasons Sunny has recently given him to hold one against her. If nothing else is clear from this, you do not want Marcus harboring anything for you. He does this just to impress upon Sunny that his offer of employment is something she should strongly consider.
Tony’s lover, confidante, right hand, and former employee has left him. Without warning, without notice—and Tony wants her back. He’s not that concerned for her safety, he’s a little concerned that she defected to some new competition for his turf, but mostly he just wants to know what happened and how he can win her back. Sunny (and this reader) is fairly convinced by Marcus—she doesn’t think Marcus wants to hurt her, he just wants her back. Sunny hems and haws, but agrees to take on the case—for her own safety and because she’s able to convince herself that she’s actually working for Lisa Morneau, not Marcus.
This puts her on a path to explore the world of prostitution in Boston—this isn’t the first time Sunny’s done something like this, but this time she’s working for Marcus, which opens a few more doors. She meets with Lisa’s closest friend, someone she helped get out of the life, as well as former colleagues. Sunny also has several run-ins with Marcus’s new competitor, who seems like he’s wanting to start a war with him.
At some point, the trail leads to Paradise—leading to Sunny meeting up with Jesse Stone. The two banter and flirt a bit, and Jesse offers some help on the Paradise front. It was nice to see them together again (I’ve often thought the best use of the Sunny character was as Stone’s associate).
Now, it’s not long before the search for Lisa results in murder—and Lisa herself is frightened, sure that she’s next. Which drives Sunny to start to look into why would someone want to threaten her. What does Lisa know that makes her dangerous? And can Sunny use this knowledge to save Lisa and prevent the gang war on the verge of erupting?
While that’s going on Richie’s (other) ex-wife moves back to Boston with their son, Richard, and now wants Richie to play the role in Richard’s life that she’d previously blocked him from. Richie responds as any father worthy of the title would—he’s overjoyed and turns his life upside down to accommodate that without a second thought. Sunny recognizes that this is the way he should react, but can’t quite get on board with it herself in the same way—for a combination of reasons, some petty, some understandable (maybe some fit under both columns). It’s a dicey story for all characters involved and Lupica deals with it well.
Lupica goes out of his way to make sure it’s obvious that this takes place in the Parker-verse outside of Paradise. Of course, Sunny sees her therapist, Susan Silverman; Sunny consults Lee Farrell a few times (nice to see him again) and they talk about Frank Belson once or twice (the new captain, too); Vinne Morris pops in briefly; there’s a mention of Patricia Utley, and something Tony Marcus says places this at the same time as Angel Eyes. That’s nice and pretty fun, but he’s almost name-dropping enough to make him seem desperate to prove his legitimacy as a Parker fan. “No, really, I’m qualified to write these books, let me show you how familiar I am with all the series.” I think Atkins came close to this in his first two Spenser books, Coleman in his first Jesse Stone, so it’s not unique to Lupica. Also, he doesn’t get to the point of desperation, but he’s close—if he can just dial that back a bit now, he’s proved himself.
Feel free to skip this paragraph, I dance right down the border of The Spoiler Zone (and might put a couple of toes into it). My gut reaction to the way things were left with the Richie/Richard storyline is pretty negative. It’s hard to get into without spoiling things, but…Richie reacted irrationally to things given his family and who he knows Sunny is, and Sunny took the easy way out with things (Susan Silverman would not approve—if she let herself approve/disapprove of Sunny’s actions). Now, this doesn’t mean that Lupica fell down in the writing—he’s actually writing the characters the way they were created, flaws and all. I’d like to see some growth in the characters and we didn’t get that yet—but that could be because he’s setting things up for future books. Or, he could be letting these two stagnate where they are (see Parker’s treatment of Stone in the later books).
Sunny has a good deal of internal discussion about how she’s finding herself in the situations she’s facing because of decisions men have reached, and not herself—she’s reacting too much to men’s choices. She resolves not to be the threatened, but to be the one threatening. I think there’s a lot of merit to these lines of thinking—but she seems to go through this (or something pretty close to it) in every book (by Lupica or Parker). At some point, it’d be nice to see her move past this—or add some nuance or wisdom to this consideration.
Lupica keeps things moving throughout—even when Sunny’s investigation starts going in circles, the plot keeps going. He writes confidently and with just enough flair to make this fit in the Parker-verse. There’s a joke or two that he returns to too often, but it feels in-character for Sunny’s narration to do that, so I’m not complaining.
The last line…I’m not going to say anything about it, but I could fill an entire post with what I like about it, what it makes me fear, and how I should’ve seen it as inevitable. But… I’m not going to say anything about it because I don’t play that way. Feel free to talk about it in the comments after the book comes out, though.
So, I have a lot to say about this, it turns out—but it boils down to this: Grudge Match was a fast, easy read—the plot and the prose were as smooth as you could want. Lupica has captured the voice of the Sunny Randall books and has made it his own. While I was bothered by a couple of the character beats toward the end—they didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. If you’re a Sunny fan, you’ll be entertained. This actually would work as a pretty decent entry point to the series, too—it’s pretty accessible (including the ongoing arcs, Lupica makes sure that people who are new to the series or haven’t read them since the last Parker in ’07 have enough information to tap into them).
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this.
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