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

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

The Devil Wins by Reed Farrel Coleman

The Devil WinsRobert B. Parker’s The Devil Wins

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Jesse Stone, #14
Hardcover, 342 pg.

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015

Read: September 11, 2015


There’s no good reason for me to have difficulty writing about Coleman’s Jesse Stone, but I twice in a row now, I have. It looks like it’ll take me less than a month to get this up, so that’s something I guess (but it should’ve taken me less than a day!) But man, I love these books!

In this one, on page 3 there was a line I wanted to read to my wife, on page 4 I was grinning. It was so good to be back in Paradise, MA. Chapter 2 served as a a reminder this wasn’t Parker’s Stone, this was Coleman’s. Which is not necessarily better or worse, just different — it’s still the same world, populated with the same people, it’s just told differently. The Devil Wins started strong and stayed that way.

One of the things that distinguished this series from the Spenser series (and later, Randall — which felt like Spenser) was the atmosphere — this was a gray world (so well captured in the movies). Not just morally (and that could be argued, I think), but weather, mood, outlook on life of the characters — economy of the community, even. Later, Parker seemed to pull back on that — either deliberately, or for the same reason that Spenser’s backstory changed. Coleman has returned to the gray, and amped it up a bit, his style brings that into focus. His dialogue might not be as snappy (and it’s not), but it’s thoughtful, as is the narrative and his descriptions. You can almost feel this world as much as see it.

Every town has its dark secrets, the events people don’t like to remember, or discuss, or admit they happened. Paradise has a few of those, I’d wager — one of them was that about twenty-five years ago, two high school girls disappeared without a trace. While most presumed (maybe hoped) that they’d been killed, there were no suspects, no motive, no evidence. Eventually, time moved on and the town collectively repressed the events. A fresh homicide investigation leads to the discovery of two much older bodies — everyone assumes (and it’s quickly confirmed) that it’s these two girls. Now Jesse has to deal with two investigations — one fairly low-priority, and one that is bringing back ghosts for everyone in Paradise (and is attracting plenty of attention from the rest of the world).

After putting his own mark on Jesse in Blind Spot, Coleman moves on to Suitcase Simpson and Molly. Don’t get me wrong, this is still Jesse’s book, and his presence dominates the narrative. But it’s in these pages that Coleman plants his flag on Suit and Molly. Suit is possibly at his most self-aware here, almost dying can do that to a person (making Coleman’s tweak totally justified), we don’t get as much time with him as we do with Molly, but what we do is golden. More importantly, Jesse has to be honest with himself about Suit — and that clarity will drive their relationship going forward. If Coleman hadn’t delivered with the rest of the book, but had with this? It’d have been worth it.

Parker, Coleman (and Brandman) hadn’t given us too many details about Molly outside of her outstanding work as Jesse’s conscience, aide, and friend. We got the little fling with Crow, and some references to her family, and that’s it. Which is exactly the way that Officer Crane wants it. But sometimes, you can’t keep that wall between your personal and professional as high as you want to — sometimes the past comes back to haunt you — and it does in spades for poor Molly. In the end, we don’t learn that much about her that we didn’t know, but it’s easy to see how what Coleman shows us helped shape her into the woman she is. (Minor spoiler ahead, skip to the next paragraph if you want) One of the two girls was Molly’s best friend, and by all rights, she should’ve been with her the night they disappeared. The discovery of the bodies, what they learn during the investigation, shake the seemingly unflappable Officer Crane to her core.

One more reason for her boss to take care of business. Not that he really needs it. Especially when more bodies start to show up.

Best part of this book for me? There’s no Gino Fish. There’s no deus ex mafia providing the solution for Jesse. It’s procedure, dogged determination and criminal stupidity — plus a little dumb luck that helps Jesse conclude what happened twenty-five years ago and today.

In addition to the great character work with our old friends, we get to focus on three new friends of Jesse’s in this book — two of whom are long-time residents of Paradise that we haven’t encountered yet, one is new to town. Jesse enlists the assistance of the editor of Paradise’s newspaper with the historical elements of his case (the police files were not up to snuff) in exchange for exclusives on a story starting to get some national attention. An insurance agent/city councilman who has been Jesse’s biggest supporter in Paradise’s government encourages him to keep on track and solve the crimes in a hurry (and when that fails, turns to threats). There’s a new Medical Examiner in the area (whose departure from NYC is similar to a certain LAPD detective’s) who befriends Jesse — she’s smart, attractive, and interested in more — but for now they decide on friendship.

I guess I should quickly mention the other women in Jesse’s life, having talked about Tamara Elkins. She’s talked about a couple of times, but we don’t get to see the new character from the Blind Spot, Diana Evans, which is a shame. I hope that changes soon, Coleman certainly leaves the door open for it, although Coleman’s going to have to start using surnames that don’t sound so similar. I thought Jen was around juuuuuust enough for my taste (I also appreciated the talk about Sunny Randall).

I find it amusing how many people I’ve seen complain about Jesse’s drinking being talked about so much. His battle with the bottle was a focus from Day 1 — sometimes more successful, sometimes less so — but always, always a presence, often discussed no matter if he was drinking or not. It’s there, it’s looming, Stone battles it as he does the rest of his demons (the “it could have been” of baseball, and Jen) — while doing what he can for these girls and the community.

Once again, Coleman strikes the right atmosphere and mood, captures the essence of the characters — while not keeping them frozen in amber, tells a very Parker-esque story in his own manner, and makes me seriously consider moving to a fictional Massachusetts town, despite the troubling homicide rate. It wasn’t as good as his first foray into this world, but I’m not sure it could’ve been, and it was close enough to justify reading it a few times anyway. Please, sir, I want some more.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot by Reed Farrel Coleman

This should’ve been done at the beginning of the month, but I wanted to do this book justice, and if I couldn’t hit this out of the park, I didn’t want to swing. Also, (this is partially justification for the delay) I wanted to think about it some before putting pen to paper, so to speak. But it’s now at the point that if I didn’t get something written, I wasn’t going to — so I just did my best, and hopefully have a base hit here. As for thinking about this? Pretty sure I haven’t had a new thought about the book since I put it down — and I’ve thought about it a good deal — I’m just less prone to hyperbole about how great it is now.

Robert B. Parker's Blind SpotRobert B. Parker’s Blind Spot

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Jesse Stone, #13

Advance Review Copy, 339 pg.
Putnam Adult, 2014
Read: August 1 – 5, 2014

One of the major drags (I’d imagine) for the writer in Coleman’s position is all the comparisons — to Parker himself, and to Michael Brandman. But, I don’t really have a choice, how else to you talk about the merits of the 13th book in a series without comparing it to the previous? I guess you could act like this was the first in a series, but that just disrespects what’s gone before (however much one might want to forget some of that).

I know I’ve said a lot of this before — this will (probably) be the last time: When Night Passage was released, I was hooked immediately. Spenser’s series was in the midst of the really rocky post-Taming a Sea Horse period, and it was so refreshing to see Parker really on his game, and with something so fresh, so different. He kept that up for three additional books, and then the series started slipping in quality. I kept buying and reading them — there’d always be a few lines or a couple of chapters that had that ol’ Parker magic, and I liked the characters, but a couple of these were the worst things that Parker ever published. Then following his death, Michael Brandman tried to carry on in three books, none of which were good, and were generally worse than anything Parker had done on a bad day. So, I was pretty hopeful and enthusiastic when it was announced that Reed Farrel Coleman was going to take over the series — at this point, all I’d read by him was his essay about Jesse in Penzler’s In Pursuit of Spenser, but that was enough to get me hopeful.

Unlike what Atkins is doing (pretty well) with Spenser — trying to retain Parker’s voice; and what Brandman did (disastrously) with Jesse — trying to keep the feel of the CBS/Selleck movies; Coleman is keeping the characters and the world, but writing them in his own voice (or maybe not his natural voice, but in a voice unique to him). This, coupled with Coleman’s own strengths as a writer, gives Jesse Stone a freshness, a richness, and a quality that’s been missing since the end of 2003’s Stone Cold. Just in word count alone, Coleman shines above the sparseness of Parker’s writing — it doesn’t feel bloated, it’s well-paced, but Coleman takes a lot more time and words to tell his story — this is a strength, everyone gets fleshed out. Ideas are followed up on, shades of gray are introduced to events — this is a more complex novel than others in the series.

There are, of course, several references to events and people in earlier books — far more than is typical for a Jesse Stone novel. Some of them come across as natural, others are more like nods to the reader, some feel like Coleman trying to establish his bona fides — “Trust me, I know the series.” At this point, I welcome them all — I like to be reassured, I like being reminded of books I liked — but if he keeps it up at this pace, it could get old really quick.

One of thing that gets mentioned in every Jesse Stone novel is that he was in the Minor Leagues and probably would’ve made it to the Major League, if he hadn’t suffered a career- ending injury. He keeps a large picture of Ozzie Smith on prominent display in his sparsely furnished and decorated home. He tosses a ball into an old glove while he thinks. It is the great unknown in Jesse’s life — and probably what really got him drinking seriously. He knows that he and Jen couldn’t ever make it work (as much as he still wants it to), he knows what kind of cop, employee, and leader he is — he even knows just how much his drinking is messing up his life. What he doesn’t know? Could he have made the Big Leagues? Could he have been a great — or even just good — player. But we’ve never seen Jesse spend much time on that — a little here and there. An occasional toast in the general direction of Smith’s picture. But that’s it, until now. Now Coleman gives us a Jesse brooding over how things turned out — a few times, beyond brooding and moved right into nasty and bitter. It never occurred to me before how little Jesse thinks about this chapter in his life — maybe it’s because Parker (apparently) lived without a good deal of self-reflection that he didn’t know how to write Jesse doing just that. I don’t know, but it was a mistake — and I’m glad that Coleman has addressed it. It doesn’t need to become an obsession or anything, but something that he thinks about from time to time is good. It might even be healthy.

Jesse’s ruminations on his thwarted career are prompted by a reunion of his Minor League team, hosted by the only member of that group to make it to the Major League, Vic Prado. During the festivities, both Vic and his wife approach Jesse individually, saying they want to talk to him about something. Neither tells him what they want to talk about, but it’s serious, and has nothing to do with a reunion. Meanwhile, in Paradise, a rich college kid and his girlfriend are crashing his parents’ vacation home for some undisturbed time together. One will be killed and the other kidnapped. Add in a vicious mob boss and his Irish enforcer, a wealthy man and his criminal defense lawyer. a federal agent obsessed with a target, and one of the scariest hit-men I can remember. The result is a novel with a lot of moving pieces, shifting targets and high stakes. That said, it didn’t take long to figure out what’s going on with the various and sundry criminal interests and enterprises involved here — but it’s still very intriguing to watch the pieces be put in place until there’s a very clear picture of everything that’s going on .

Coleman took better advantage of what a third-person omniscient narrator could do than Parker ever did. Not only are we told Jesse’s story, we see a lot more of the stories of the other characters — particularly the various criminals running around here. In the end, I felt like I understood why each character did something, and who they were in general — not just Jesse’s interpretation of their motivations.

There were a lot of little moments in this book that worked so well, that moved this out of the range of Brandman — and out of the range of a lot of books in the genre. Two examples were the chapter where the “woman the folks in Scottsdale knew as Dee Harrington” evaluated her last (and lost) opportunities, and came to some big decisions — and the chapter where the parents of the murder victim arrive with Molly to identify the body. The way that Coleman is able to reveal and establish character, or to underline what we knew about other characters while showing us new sides or aspects to them, is such a pleasure to watch. Character and plot development aside, just some of what he’s able to say about the human experience is impressive.

Of course, at one point, Jesse comes across a woman being harassed by tough guy of some sort. Rather than mind his own business, arrest the guy (he has an excuse this time — he’s out of his jurisdiction), or involve some other authority; Jesse proceeds to beat the guy up. It’s borderline gratuitous, and it’s fairly typical of the series. We get a little flash of the mean, brutal side of Jesse that he normally keeps under wraps, but that really informs most of his life; this is also a bit of Jesse letting off steam from the frustrations of his murder case, there’s also a bit of chivalry. This is really Jesse Stone in a nutshell. This does nothing to the overall search of the killer and for answers for what’s behind the kidnapping. But it reminds us about the person that Jesse Stone is — he’s hard, he’s not that emotional, and he has a very strong sense of what’s legitimate and what’s just wrong when it comes to public behavior.

Seeing echoes of Harry Bosch’s creed of “Everyone matters or no one matters” in John Ceepak last year started me looking for things that revealed other detective’s guiding philosophies, or drives, and doing so has helped me understand a lot of these characters better (whether it’s a new character to me or one that I’ve been reading for years). When Jesse arrives at the initial crime scene, we’re given insight into what makes Jesse the cop he is:

Jesse understood that his demeanor at crime scenes sometimes led his cops to believe he thought hat one corpse was like the next, that one murder victim was like any other. He supposed that it was okay for them to believe that. He also supposed it was true, if not completely. Every murder victim deserved justice, needed an advocate. Just as every living citizen was entitled to equal protection under the law, so too were the murdered entitled. Yet some victims were more equal than others. Maybe that wasn’t fair or right, but it was human, and cops were owed that much leeway.

There’s a semi-redemption for one of the criminals involved in this mess that struck me. It’s not one that I think Parker would’ve given that particular guy — I’m not altogether sure that Parker would’ve paid as much attention to him as Coleman did. However, both the character and his semi-redemption are consistent with Parker’s world. Jesse, Spenser, Virgil and maybe even Hawk, would approve of this guy’s change, his reasons for doing so and how he attempted it.

There’s one other character I’d like to talk about, but I can’t quite figure out how to do so without spoiling far too much. But if you read the book, you’ll understand the one sentence I’m allowing myself, “I found myself really liking __________, and hope we see a lot more of her in future novels.”

I do have a few minor gripes and I’m going to list all of them to provide a little balance (I feel like I’m gushing more than is becoming). Some word choices repeated too often (at least often enough that one noticed). The way that the Joe Breen talked seemed off somehow — and not in a purposeful way. I either got used to it, or eventually Breen’s dialogue improved, I got too involved in everything else about him that I forgot to track that.

I’m not loving the fact that Jen comes back into the picture, while he was never really going to get over her, Jesse seemed to have moved on in Parker’s last books. But, Coleman did brought her back in just the right way, so I’m only complaining about it as a formality.

My real problems are about the way that Suit and Molly were treated. Coleman says that he loves Suit (“How can you not?” he correctly asks in some of the promotional material). But he doesn’t use him as much in this book as he should. Colman nails every line involving Officer Simpson, which is encouraging, but there aren’t enough of them.

I have three distinct problems with the way he used and depicted Molly. There’s a set banter between Jesse and Molly — she’ll say something disparaging or critical (in jest or not) about him, he’ll echo her jab adding “Chief” to the end — and she’ll eventually do the same. It’s cute enough, and Parker over-used it, too. But not as much as Coleman did — wow, dude. You’re on the verge of parody here. Honestly, Coleman might use the catchphrase as frequently as Parker did, but since Coleman has more Molly/Jesse conversations in this book than in a typical Parker, it seems worse.

Secondly, yes, Molly had one brief dalliance with Crow back in Trouble in Paradise, and yes, Jesse has brought it up on occasion. But Coleman has the Chief doing so several times in this book — almost brow-beating her with it. I don’t have a count, but I’d be willing to believe Jesse brings it up as often here as he has in the last ten books. Hyperbole aside, it seems out of character.

Lastly, in various points in the past, we’ve read, “Molly Crane had a pretty good body, Jesse thought, for a cop with three kids.” Parker’s Jesse keeps using that qualifier “for a cop with three kids.” But in this book we get a different kind of reaction — at least from the other males that see her (I don’t remember Jesse reflecting on her body in general or on specifics of it like others do). Maybe Molly’s been spending time with Tony Horton DVDs, I don’t know, it just didn’t feel right to read the comments made about her. Part of Molly’s appeal is that she’s — for lack of a better term — “real.” She’s not the glamorous type from Los Angeles. She’s a small-town cop and a Roman Catholic mom of three. Keep her that way.

None of this is a deal killer for me, but I hope that Coleman makes some adjustments to the way he uses Molly in the future, and that he just uses Luther “Suitcase” Simpson more.

All in all — a great read. Coleman has made Jesse Stone his own, while maintaining the universe that Parker created. Lee Goldberg said that Coleman “has saved Jesse Stone.” Indeed he has, and I’m so happy to be able to say that.

One more comparison to Parker before I’m done — not in his almost 70 novels did Parker end one like Coleman did here. Bravo. It was a gutsy move and it worked just the way you want an ending like this to. Jesse Stone #14 can’t hit the shelves fast enough.

Note:I received this book as an uncorrected proof from the publisher. Which was generous and cool of them, but didn’t impact what I said about the book, I care too much about Jesse to be swayed by that (which isn’t to say I couldn’t be bought if someone wanted to try). I’ll endeavor to verify my quotations with the printed book as soon as I can.

—–

5 Stars

Dusted Off: Fool Me Twice by Michael Brandman

Robert B. Parker's Fool Me Twice (Jesse Stone, #11)Robert B. Parker’s Fool Me Twice

by Michael Brandman
Series: Jesse Stone, #11

Hardcover, 288 pg.
Putnam Adult, 2012
Read: September 26, 2012
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

sigh…I shouldn’t have been able to finish this in an hour.

It was fun enough, and I think this was an improvement over Brandman’s first try. But…it was just slight, I guess. Sort of like this review–not a lot to it, but gets the point across.

Not that all of Parker’s Stone books were dynamite, but it was easier to overlook his weaker works because of all the others. Brandman doesn’t have others, just this weak tea.

—–

2 Stars

Robert B. Parker’s Damned if You Do by Michael Brandman

Robert B. Parker's Damned if You Do
Robert B. Parker’s Damned if You Do by Michael Brandman
Series: Jesse Stone, #12

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

At least half of one of those stars is due to loyalty to the fine men and woman (pretty sure there’s just one) of the Paradise Police Department.

Brandman knows Stone. He knows Suitcase (though you’d have a hard time proving it based on the evidence here) and Molly. He has a decent handle on the city, and the supporting characters.

What he doesn’t know is how to write a mystery. Or a police procedural. Possibly not a novel — maybe he should stick to scripts.

There are two cases that Jesse’s working on in this book — one he stumbles onto when helping a friend, he develops a hunch about conditions in a local retirement home. He talks to two citizens about it — both of whom serve mostly as exposition dumps and confirm his hunch. Jesse proceeds to harass and bully his way through bringing the retirement home in line. There’s no challenge for him here, there’s no struggle, there’s no effort, really. It does allow Brandman a chance to talk about some real problems, cite some statistics about a social ill and move on.

There’s a murder mystery also — he detects a little here. Mostly he susses out one clue, and the rest is delivered to him by Gino Fish and Vinnie Morris. Always nice for a small town cop to have a mobster and a shooter to call on for answers.

If this took me any time at all to read, I’d probably be more upset. The Stone novels for years were the best things that Parker produced. Towards the end, there was a resurgence in the quality of the Spenser novels which seemed to result in lesser Stone novels. But we’d still occasionally get one worth reading. Brandman has consistently fallen far short of even Parker’s worst. It’s really sad to see such a good franchise ruined like this.