Pub Day Repost: The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Jesse Stone, #16
eARC, 352 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
Read: July 3 – 5, 2017

On the one hand, I know that Coleman is a pro, and that he’s going to approach each series, each character from a different angle. But he’s so effective at writing a broken, grieving Gus Murphy, that you have to expect a grieving Jesse Stone to be written as effectively and with a similar depth. Which gave me a little pause when it came to cracking this one open — how much of a mess would Jesse be?

Big. A big mess.

Still, I was chuckling within a few pages — Jesse’s pursuing a path to self-destruction unlike any he’s had before, even that which cost him his career with the LAPD, but at his core he’s still the same guy we’ve been reading for 20 years. He may not care about himself (or at least he wants to punish himself), but Suit, Molly, and the rest of Paradise. When push comes to shove, he’ll do what he has to do. Some times he might need prompting, however.

But let’s set that aside for the moment — there are essentially two stories involving Jesse and the PPD. There’s the titular sonnet — a reference to a legendary lost recording by Massachusetts’ answer to Bob Dylan, Terry Jester. Sometime after this recording, Jester pulled a J. D. Salinger and disappeared from the public eye. Jester is about to turn 75, and a large birthday gala is being planned on Stiles Island. Jesse has to consult with Jester’s manager, PR agent and the chief of security for the island. Jesse can’t stand this idea — he can’t stand much to do with Stiles Island — he just doesn’t want to put up with the hassle, the celebrities, the distraction from the typical duties of PPD. But he doesn’t have much choice — for one, there will need to be something done to deal with the traffic, celebrities, and what not; but Jesse also has to deal with the mayor’s political aspirations. And you don’t get very far without the support (and money) of celebrities and the positive media coverage that kind of thing should bring.

On the other end of the spectrum, an elderly woman has been found dead in her bed, but under suspicious circumstances. She has deep ties to the history of Paradise, causing her death to grab more headlines than it might otherwise. Did I mention the mayor’s political aspirations? Well, the last thing she needs is an unsolved murder when she’s trying to cash in on the media attention that Jester’s celebration will bring. So she starts applying pressure to Jesse. When Jesse starts to think there’s a link between her death and the hunt for The Hangman’s Sonnet master recording, the pressure — and the urge to drink — increases for Paradise’s Police Chief. Thanks to the Law of Interconnected Monkey Business, the reader knew there was likely a link all along, so I don’t think I gave away too much there.

That right there would be enough to get me to read and probably recommend. But you add Coleman’s writing into the mix and you’ve got yourself a winner. There’s a wonderful passage where Jesse meditates on the beauty of the accessories to his drinking — the different glasses, the bottles, the rituals. The mystery was solid work — and I was close to figuring everything out, but not close enough. When the final reveal was made, I felt pretty stupid, all the pieces were there I just didn’t assemble them correctly. There were a couple of “red shirt” criminals early on that were so well written, that even when you know they’re not going to stick around too long, you get invested in them (one of them had a death scene fairly early that most writers would let be predictable — and the death was — but the way that Coleman wrote it got me highlighting and making notes). Coleman even does something that Parker said he couldn’t do.

I won’t say that everything that happened during Debt to Pay has been dealt with thoroughly — it hasn’t. But, most of the characters have been able to get a degree of resolution and closure that means they can move forward. Not perfectly, perhaps, but honestly. Jesse, in particular, might come back for book 17 in a significantly better place (or at least significantly different) — but the core will be there, and woe on any criminal that steps foot into Paradise.

Great character moments; slow, organic development; and top-notch writing. Coleman delivers again, continuing to take the foundation laid by Parker and building on it in a way that’s true to the spirit of the world Parker created, but brought to us with a newfound depth.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

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The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Jesse Stone, #16

eARC, 352 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017

Read: July 3 – 5, 2017


On the one hand, I know that Coleman is a pro, and that he’s going to approach each series, each character from a different angle. But he’s so effective at writing a broken, grieving Gus Murphy, that you have to expect a grieving Jesse Stone to be written as effectively and with a similar depth. Which gave me a little pause when it came to cracking this one open — how much of a mess would Jesse be?

Big. A big mess.

Still, I was chuckling within a few pages — Jesse’s pursuing a path to self-destruction unlike any he’s had before, even that which cost him his career with the LAPD, but at his core he’s still the same guy we’ve been reading for 20 years. He may not care about himself (or at least he wants to punish himself), but Suit, Molly, and the rest of Paradise. When push comes to shove, he’ll do what he has to do. Some times he might need prompting, however.

But let’s set that aside for the moment — there are essentially two stories involving Jesse and the PPD. There’s the titular sonnet — a reference to a legendary lost recording by Massachusetts’ answer to Bob Dylan, Terry Jester. Sometime after this recording, Jester pulled a J. D. Salinger and disappeared from the public eye. Jester is about to turn 75, and a large birthday gala is being planned on Stiles Island. Jesse has to consult with Jester’s manager, PR agent and the chief of security for the island. Jesse can’t stand this idea — he can’t stand much to do with Stiles Island — he just doesn’t want to put up with the hassle, the celebrities, the distraction from the typical duties of PPD. But he doesn’t have much choice — for one, there will need to be something done to deal with the traffic, celebrities, and what not; but Jesse also has to deal with the mayor’s political aspirations. And you don’t get very far without the support (and money) of celebrities and the positive media coverage that kind of thing should bring.

On the other end of the spectrum, an elderly woman has been found dead in her bed, but under suspicious circumstances. She has deep ties to the history of Paradise, causing her death to grab more headlines than it might otherwise. Did I mention the mayor’s political aspirations? Well, the last thing she needs is an unsolved murder when she’s trying to cash in on the media attention that Jester’s celebration will bring. So she starts applying pressure to Jesse. When Jesse starts to think there’s a link between her death and the hunt for The Hangman’s Sonnet master recording, the pressure — and the urge to drink — increases for Paradise’s Police Chief. Thanks to the Law of Interconnected Monkey Business, the reader knew there was likely a link all along, so I don’t think I gave away too much there.

That right there would be enough to get me to read and probably recommend. But you add Coleman’s writing into the mix and you’ve got yourself a winner. There’s a wonderful passage where Jesse meditates on the beauty of the accessories to his drinking — the different glasses, the bottles, the rituals. The mystery was solid work — and I was close to figuring everything out, but not close enough. When the final reveal was made, I felt pretty stupid, all the pieces were there I just didn’t assemble them correctly. There were a couple of “red shirt” criminals early on that were so well written, that even when you know they’re not going to stick around too long, you get invested in them (one of them had a death scene fairly early that most writers would let be predictable — and the death was — but the way that Coleman wrote it got me highlighting and making notes). Coleman even does something that Parker said he couldn’t do.

I won’t say that everything that happened during Debt to Pay has been dealt with thoroughly — it hasn’t. But, most of the characters have been able to get a degree of resolution and closure that means they can move forward. Not perfectly, perhaps, but honestly. Jesse, in particular, might come back for book 17 in a significantly better place (or at least significantly different) — but the core will be there, and woe on any criminal that steps foot into Paradise.

Great character moments; slow, organic development; and top-notch writing. Coleman delivers again, continuing to take the foundation laid by Parker and building on it in a way that’s true to the spirit of the world Parker created, but brought to us with a newfound depth.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Pub Day Repost: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman

This is one of those I spent a couple of days futzing around with — not sure I made it better (or worse) by doing so — I re-arranged a lot, that’s the best I can say. Both Murphy novels are tough to talk about in the abstract, which I think is a pretty good thing. There’s not a lot of fat on them — just good lean prose.

What You BreakWhat You Break

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Gus Murphy, #2
eARC, 368 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
Read: December 1 – 5, 2016

Why? It’s three letters that permeate this novel. We’re all familiar with the need for an answer to that question. From the time that a toddler starts ever so persistently asking that question until the end, we keep wondering, “why?” Few need the answer as much as someone who has to deal with the unexpected death of a younger family member. In Where It Hurts, we saw just what the lack of an answer did to Gus Murphy and his life. So when a grandfather comes to Gus for help finding out why his granddaughter was brutally murdered, there’s no way that he can turn his back on the request. Especially given the inducements being offered.

He wasn’t recruited to solve the murder — the police have a man awaiting sentencing for the crime. But he won’t tell anyone anything about the crime or his relationship (or lack thereof) to the victim. The grandfather, Micah Spears, rubs Gus wrong from the get-go — if it weren’t for Father Bill’s endorsement, and his understanding of Spears’ deep need to know, Gus would’ve walked. It probably would’ve been better for him if he had. Almost no one — especially her family, the police (many of whom are still angry for what Gus turned up in the last book) — wants him to pursue this. The more Gus learns about Linh Trang (she preferred “LT”), the more he becomes convinced that there’s no reason for the killer to want her dead, which just makes the “Why?” even more pressing.

Before he can really start to work for Spears, Gus has a few other why’s to answer — why did his friend/co-worker, Slava, just drive off with the mysterious new guest at the hotel? Why did a Russian gangster get assassinated before Gus’ eyes shortly after Slava and the guest talk to him? Why is there a very formidable Russian running around Long Island looking for Slava? The focus of the novel is on the Spears case, but this storyline casts a shadow over everything. I didn’t really spend too much time in Where It Hurts worried about what would happen to anyone, and the Spears case is more of a puzzle than anything — but there’s peril to this Russian story, and the reader will become convinced that whatever happens in it, will have a large impact on Gus (and not just because of Slava’s involvement).

Gus has grown a bit, made some steps toward health since we last saw him, but he has a lot of work to do. Things with his ex- are about where they were previously, but with less anger (mutually), his romance is progressing with Maggie, and so on. Basically, Gus is becoming someone different from just the ex-cop with a dead son. That sill the core of his being, but there’s something more to it than that — maybe even some room for happiness. It’s hard to discuss briefly, but simply: Gus was better off by the end of Where it Hurts than he was at the beginning, and at the start of this novel, he was better off yet. As for the ending of this book? Well, read it and decide for yourself.

This book deals with some pretty potent things — as Coleman did when we met Gus — there’s love, friendship, loss, grief, confusion and resentment, to name a few of the ingredients in the emotional cauldron everything in the novel is steeping in. Not just from Gus, Slava and Spears — but everyone in the book is dealing with things that no one should have to, but most of us do. I’d like (but cannot expect) to circle back around and see how LT’s friends are doing in a couple of years, ditto for her sister and ex-step-grandmother. I’d like a lot more time with a judge that Gus interviews, as well as Gus’ lawyer. I expect the latter, at least, will be granted to me.

Spears and Gus do get some answers as to why LT was killed — but, as is so often the case, really those answers don’t satisfy much and lead to further questions. No tidy bows here for anything — which isn’t to say the concluding scenes of the novel won’t satisfy the reader, just that there’s no pat endings or rides off into the sunset. Just survivors (not saying how many of them there’ll be) moving on. The Epilogue will stay with you. That’s really all I can say.

This book put me through the wringer — not as much as Gus and Slava were, but still — Coleman has really topped himself from Where it Hurts, we know these people better now, so he can push them further. I lost sleep with this one, which isn’t that unusual, but I lost more sleep staying up to get through this than I have in a long time. There’s a darkness, an emptiness throughout that wasn’t there in our first encounter with Gus — or if it was, it’s changed in source and intensity. I’m not sure many readers will like where Gus is by the time we get to book 3 or 4 (including me) — but I’ll understand it. Coleman’s making sure his writing and characterization is honest, as real as fiction can get.

Once again, he delivers a crime novel that could be mistaken for a non-genre novel (as if such a thing exists), suitable for thoughtful crime readers or those who don’t mind crime to show up in a novel about a parent redefining himself after the death of a child.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from G.P. Putnam’s Sons via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. It didn’t change my opinions on the book, I was simply able to form them a couple of months early.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Best Novels I Read in 2016

Yeah, I should’ve done this earlier, but I just needed a break from 2016 for a couple of days. Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Morning StarMorning Star

by Pierce Brown
My original post
I was a little surprised (but not really) today to see that every book in the trilogy made my year-end Best-Of list — so it makes sense that this one occupies a space. But it’s more than that, this book was an exciting emotional wringer that ended the trilogy in a perfect way. I can’t recommend this one enough (but only for those who’ve read the first two). When I was informed a month ago that there was going to be a follow-up series? I let out a whoop, thankfully none of my family noticed, so I don’t have to feel too silly.
5 Stars

A Star-Reckoner's LotA Star-Reckoner’s Lot

by Darrell Drake
My original post
I’m afraid if I start talking about this one that I’ll spill a few hundred words. Let me just slightly modify something I already wrote and spare us all the effort (that could be better spent actually reading these books). I’m afraid I’ll overuse the word imaginative if I tried to describe what Drake has done here in the depth I want to in this book about pre-Islamic Iran. You haven’t read a fantasy novel like this one before — almost certainly, anyway — but you should.
4 1/2 Stars

Blood of the EarthBlood of the Earth

by Faith Hunter
My original post
This probably should be a dual entry with Blood of the Earth and Curse on the Land, but that felt like cheating. Between the two, I thought that this was a slightly better work, so it got the spot. While remaining true to the Jane Yellowrock world that this springs from, Hunter has created a fantastic character, new type of magic, and basis of a series. I love these characters already (well, except for those I wasn’t crazy about previously) and can’t wait for a return trip.
4 1/2 Stars

BurnedBurned

by Benedict Jacka
My original post
I’m just going to quote myself here: I’ve seen people call this the Changes of the Alex Verus series — and it absolutely is. I’d also call it the Staked in terms with the protagonists coming to grips with the effects that his being in the lives of his nearest and dearest has on their life, and what that means for his future involvement with them. Which is not to say that Jacka’s latest feels anything like Butcher’s or Hearne’s books — it feels like Verus just turned up half a notch. It’s just such a great read — it grabs you on page 2 and drags you along wherever it wants to take you right up until the “He is not actually doing this” moment — which are followed by a couple more of them.
5 Stars

Fate BallFate Ball

by Adam W. Jones
My original post
Since the Spring when I read this, I periodically reminded myself to keep this in mind for my Top 10, I was that afraid I’d forget this quiet book. It’s not a perfect novel, there are real problems with it — but it was really effective. I fell for Ava, just the way Able did — not as hard (and only in a way that my wife wouldn’t mind) — but just as truly. This one worked about as well as any author could hope one would.
4 1/2 Stars

All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai
My original post
My all-time favorite time-travel novel, just a fun read, too. I will over-hype this one if I’m not careful. So, so good.
5 Stars

The Summer that Melted EverythingThe Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel
My original post
I’m not sure what I can say about this book that others haven’t — this trip into a magical realism version of the 1980’s Mid-West will get you on every level — it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, the language is gorgeous, the characters are flawed in all the right ways. I wish this was getting the attention (and sales!) that it deserves — I really hope its audience finds it.
5 Stars

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
My original post
Here’s a book that doesn’t have to worry about attention or audience, it has one — and it’s probably growing. It deserves it. Short, sweet (and not-sweet) and to the point. I may have to buy a two copies of the sequel so I don’t have to fight my daughter for it when it’s released.
5 Stars

Lady Cop Makes TroubleLady Cop Makes Trouble

by Amy Stewart
My original post
Stewart took the really good historical crime novel she wrote last year and built on that foundation one that’s far more entertaining without sacrificing anything that had come before. We’ll be reading about the Kopp sisters for a while, I think.
4 Stars

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
My original post
Yeah, here I am again, flogging Underwood’s Genrenaut stories — whether in individual novellas, audiobooks, or in this collection — you need to get your hands on this series about story specialists who travel to alternate dimensions where stories are real and what happens in them impacts our world — Underwood has a special alchemy of Leverage + The Librarians + Quantum Leap + Thursday Next going on here, and I love it.
5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. I toyed with a Top 17 in 2016 but that seemed stupid — and I’ve always done 10, I’m going to stick with it. But man — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway here they are: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman (my original post), Children of the Different by SC Flynn (my original post), Thursday 1:17 p.m. by Michael Landweber (my original post), We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman (my original post), A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl (my original post), and Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja (my original post).

I hope your 2016 reads were as good as these.

What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman

This is one of those I spent a couple of days futzing around with — not sure I made it better (or worse) by doing so — I re-arranged a lot, that’s the best I can say. Both Murphy novels are tough to talk about in the abstract, which I think is a pretty good thing. There’s not a lot of fat on them — just good lean prose.

What You BreakWhat You Break

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Gus Murphy, #2

eARC, 368 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017

Read: December 1 – 5, 2016


Why? It’s three letters that permeate this novel. We’re all familiar with the need for an answer to that question. From the time that a toddler starts ever so persistently asking that question until the end, we keep wondering, “why?” Few need the answer as much as someone who has to deal with the unexpected death of a younger family member. In Where It Hurts, we saw just what the lack of an answer did to Gus Murphy and his life. So when a grandfather comes to Gus for help finding out why his granddaughter was brutally murdered, there’s no way that he can turn his back on the request. Especially given the inducements being offered.

He wasn’t recruited to solve the murder — the police have a man awaiting sentencing for the crime. But he won’t tell anyone anything about the crime or his relationship (or lack thereof) to the victim. The grandfather, Micah Spears, rubs Gus wrong from the get-go — if it weren’t for Father Bill’s endorsement, and his understanding of Spears’ deep need to know, Gus would’ve walked. It probably would’ve been better for him if he had. Almost no one — especially her family, the police (many of whom are still angry for what Gus turned up in the last book) — wants him to pursue this. The more Gus learns about Linh Trang (she preferred “LT”), the more he becomes convinced that there’s no reason for the killer to want her dead, which just makes the “Why?” even more pressing.

Before he can really start to work for Spears, Gus has a few other why’s to answer — why did his friend/co-worker, Slava, just drive off with the mysterious new guest at the hotel? Why did a Russian gangster get assassinated before Gus’ eyes shortly after Slava and the guest talk to him? Why is there a very formidable Russian running around Long Island looking for Slava? The focus of the novel is on the Spears case, but this storyline casts a shadow over everything. I didn’t really spend too much time in Where It Hurts worried about what would happen to anyone, and the Spears case is more of a puzzle than anything — but there’s peril to this Russian story, and the reader will become convinced that whatever happens in it, will have a large impact on Gus (and not just because of Slava’s involvement).

Gus has grown a bit, made some steps toward health since we last saw him, but he has a lot of work to do. Things with his ex- are about where they were previously, but with less anger (mutually), his romance is progressing with Maggie, and so on. Basically, Gus is becoming someone different from just the ex-cop with a dead son. That sill the core of his being, but there’s something more to it than that — maybe even some room for happiness. It’s hard to discuss briefly, but simply: Gus was better off by the end of Where it Hurts than he was at the beginning, and at the start of this novel, he was better off yet. As for the ending of this book? Well, read it and decide for yourself.

This book deals with some pretty potent things — as Coleman did when we met Gus — there’s love, friendship, loss, grief, confusion and resentment, to name a few of the ingredients in the emotional cauldron everything in the novel is steeping in. Not just from Gus, Slava and Spears — but everyone in the book is dealing with things that no one should have to, but most of us do. I’d like (but cannot expect) to circle back around and see how LT’s friends are doing in a couple of years, ditto for her sister and ex-step-grandmother. I’d like a lot more time with a judge that Gus interviews, as well as Gus’ lawyer. I expect the latter, at least, will be granted to me.

Spears and Gus do get some answers as to why LT was killed — but, as is so often the case, really those answers don’t satisfy much and lead to further questions. No tidy bows here for anything — which isn’t to say the concluding scenes of the novel won’t satisfy the reader, just that there’s no pat endings or rides off into the sunset. Just survivors (not saying how many of them there’ll be) moving on. The Epilogue will stay with you. That’s really all I can say.

This book put me through the wringer — not as much as Gus and Slava were, but still — Coleman has really topped himself from Where it Hurts, we know these people better now, so he can push them further. I lost sleep with this one, which isn’t that unusual, but I lost more sleep staying up to get through this than I have in a long time. There’s a darkness, an emptiness throughout that wasn’t there in our first encounter with Gus — or if it was, it’s changed in source and intensity. I’m not sure many readers will like where Gus is by the time we get to book 3 or 4 (including me) — but I’ll understand it. Coleman’s making sure his writing and characterization is honest, as real as fiction can get.

Once again, he delivers a crime novel that could be mistaken for a non-genre novel (as if such a thing exists), suitable for thoughtful crime readers or those who don’t mind crime to show up in a novel about a parent redefining himself after the death of a child.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from G.P. Putnam’s Sons via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. It didn’t change my opinions on the book, I was simply able to form them a couple of months early.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Debt to Pay by Reed Farrel Coleman

Debt to PayRobert B. Parker’s Debt to Pay

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Jesse Stone, #15

eARC, 352 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016

Read: August 20 – 22, 2016

Since the closing pages of Blind Spot, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to fall victim to gravity. Jesse Stone has been, too. Well, after a more typical Stone novel, the wait is over — Mr. Peepers, the sadistic hitman that almost killed Suitcase Simpson and evaded Jesse, is back.

Just in time for just in time for Jesse’s ex, Jen’s wedding.

Before I forget, isn’t that a great move? Build suspense by ignoring the cliffhanger-esque ending for a whole book? In the wrong hands, that’d be annoying, but done right? Very effective.

Jesse and his lady-love, Diana (the FBI agent turned private security consultant) are off to Texas to meet Jen’s fiance, maybe get a little closure, and covertly protect Jen from the special mix of psychological and physical torture that Peepers subjects his victims to before killing them. While Jesse seems to be several steps behind, Peepers seems to be calling all the shots — he’s got all the power and is making Jesse jump through whatever hoops he wants him to.

Meanwhile, changes are afoot with the Paradise Police Department, State Homicide and Suit’s life (and a few other places) — just so we don’t all get too wrapped up in Pepper’s quest for vengeance.

As he has in the previous two novels in this series, Coleman keeps things moving at a great pace, the suspense keeps getting ratcheted up — interspersed by heartwarming, amusing, and troubling moments, so it’s not suspense overkill. There are some great character moments — especially with Diana and Jesse, Suit and a few people, Jesse and a bottle. There’s no mystery here — we all know who the villain of the piece is, the only question is how Peppers will attack and who will remain standing at the end of the book.

In his other major series, Parker introduced a paid assassin, The Gray Man, who almost killed Spenser and plagued him for a while afterwards. Mr. Peepers is far creepier, deadlier, and interesting than the Gray Man ever was. I really didn’t like being in that dude’s head as much as we were — which means that Coleman succeeded in making him a terrible person — I felt like washing my brain out with soap to get over some of the Peepers chapters.

Ace Atkins has returned Spenser to his roots (moved things forward, don’t get me wrong, it’s not just a nostalgia trip), but Coleman has taken Jesse and the rest and shaken things up — he’s stayed true to the characters, the series, the feel — but he’s pushed things ahead and has probably made more real changes to the series than Parker did since book 2 (but making things feel risky and inventive feels like the roots of this series). Actually, he’s not just changed this series — he’s done things that affect the whole of the Parker-verse. Just look at Suit — everything we need to know about what Coleman’s doing to the series is embodied there. I know Coleman’s take is not that popular with some long-time fans, but I couldn’t be happier — either with the series as it is right now, or with this book.

This was riveting, literally never a dull moment — not relentless, you can relax occasionally, even grin. But I had to force myself to put it down to do the responsible adult thing a couple of times. I expect most fans of Jesse and the PPD folks will have similar experiences with Debt to Pay.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from G.P. Putnam’s Sons via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Reposting: Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman

It’s Publication Day for Where It Hurts, so I thought I’d better throw this up again. Go get your hands on it.

Where it HurtsWhere It Hurts

by Reed Farrel Coleman

Series: Gus Murphy, #1
ePub, 353 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016

Read: November 26 – 27, 2015

I honestly don’t know where to start with this, once again Reed Farrel Coleman has provided me with a book that I really want to talk about, but I’m not sure how to proceed, beyond saying that this is really good.

Where It Hurts is gritty, bleak, tragic, and tense with a strange sense of hope filtering though the depression, pain and grief. If that miasma makes sense to you, you’ll get the feel for this book. If it doesn’t, you’ll understand why I struggled for almost a month with this.

Gus Murphy is a retired uniformed police officer — retired young, I should add. His life has been shattered by a calamity that struck without warning and without mercy; bringing an end to his career, his marriage, his faith, and his relationship with his daughter. His ex-wife and daughter aren’t faring too well in the aftermath, either — you could make the case that Krissy, his daughter, is worse off than Gus.

Two years after his world came to an end, it’d be nice to say that Gus has started to put his life back together — he hasn’t. He has, however, figured out how to exist, and honestly that’s about it.

It’s into this state of mind, state of being that we first encounter Gus and from there Where It Hurts really gives us two stories. The first is a story about an ex-cop being asked (and agreeing) to look into a months-old homicide on behalf of a father — who has a record long enough that the Suffolk County PD isn’t that interested in helping him or taking any evidence he might have gathered for them. Enter Gus. The other is a story of a grieving father dealing with the aforementioned fallout of the tragedy and — thanks to other story — a renewed interest in life beyond this grief and anger. In the end, both stories end up feeding the other as Gus remembers what living was like, what being a cop was like.

As well-written and plotted as book is — with a well-done mystery, your appreciation for this book will come down to the question of what you think of Gus. If you don’t care about him, aren’t interested in what makes him tick — the rest isn’t going to maintain your interest. If you do care, are curious, are sympathetic, are fill-in-the-blank, there’s no reason you won’t be satisfied with it.

I’ve only read 5 or so of Block’s Matthew Scudder books — and that was a while ago — but Gus reminded me a lot of Scudder. Instead of battling his addiction, he battled his loss (and, yes, I realize both are probably doing the same thing — but Scudder identifies as a drunk, Gus doesn’t). I found it particularly interesting — and on the whole, original — the way that Coleman dealt with and explored Gus’ lack of faith. Because it’s not just your garden variety atheism/agnosticism — Gus is angry about his God not existing anymore (or at least his faith in Him). He talks about it a lot — so much so that you know it’s self-delusion to think of it as a loss of faith, while it’s anger at God for what happened to him. Gus isn’t Job, he has neither the patience or the faith to react like Job — and in his grief, he lashes out at the God who would do this to him/his family. To me, this felt genuine, I think I know this guy (or at least that reaction).

The supporting characters were great — the criminals suspected of the murder, the criminals adjacent to the murder, the police (although one bordered on being a cartoonish lout — but that seemed intentional), the people from Gus’ old life, those from his new. On the one hand, I didn’t think I got a great picture of his ex-wife, but on the other, I don’t think I needed to. A little more time with Krissy, however would’ve been good. Everything else was great, character-wise.

That was actually much easier than I thought it would’ve been. Where It Hurts strikes me as the kind of book that I could go on and on for pages about, but apparently not today. It might have to wait until book two comes out, so I can see where Gus goes from here. Does he remain in essentially the same spot, or does he make big, sustained steps out of mere existence and into a new life? The last few pages suggest that he does, but I know better than to expect that to remain the case. I actually could see me revising everything I said here about this book based on the sequel.

Regardless, a heckuva book — one that could appeal to thoughtful mystery readers, or general fiction readers willing to have a hefty dose of crime in their reads.

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4 Stars

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Note: I received a digital copy of this book from the nifty people at First to Read, as grateful as I am to them, that didn’t alter my appreciation of the book or what I said about it.