- Review by MysteryPeople Scott
Reed Farrel Coleman’s second book in his continuation of Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series, The Devil Wins, comes out next month. Anticipating his new novel got me thinking about the first two books to introduce and feature Robert B. Parker’s tarnished police chief: Night Passage and Trouble In Paradise. Parker created Stone as a means to stretch his writing muscles in ways he didn’t get to with his popular private eye Spenser. In doing so, he created one of his more complex series characters.
In the first book, Night Passage, we get to know Jesse on a cross country trip from LA to Paradise, a small Massachusetts island town where he just got a job as police chief. As Jesse stops at motels and monuments (most notably the statue of his hero, Cardinals short stop Ozzie Smith) he asses his past, as injured minor league ball-player-turned-homicide-detective, as a failed husband now divorced, and as an alcoholic fired from from the LAPD. The trip is interwoven with a mysterious set of baddies scheming, many on the town council of Stone’s new place of residence. It’s how we learn that Jesse is hired not for his strengths, but for his weaknesses. He was drunk at the job interview, making the powers that be believe he wouldn’t notice what they are up to.
Night Passage is Jesse’s tentative first steps into a shaky rebirth. His ex moves nearby and they start a relationship that may be forgiving, but not healthy. He begins to bond with his deputies, who will be just as important to the series as himself. He shows that he has a sense of justice and will enforce the law and do what he can to bring those down, as some members on the town council soon learn.
In Trouble In Paradise, Parker pushes himself in theme and genre. The book appears to be partly inspired by Dashielle Hammett’s short story “The Gutting Of Couffigal.” The plot revolves around a group of criminals who plan to shut down, then rob, an island town. This is where Parker’s foray into third person pays off. This is the first time we really hang out with the criminals in a Parker novel and the book excels as a heist story. He even plays with subgenre, making the right hand man, Crow, the most dangerous and smartest of the robbers. He also drops in Peyton Place melodrama, dealing with the relationships and infidelities in Paradise, including those of Jesse’s deputies. Both subgenres and another investigation dovetail into the third act of the story to create a modern western with only group of rag-tag lawmen to hold back the nefarious bandits.
A western element permeates the entire series. Jesse very much asks like the sheriff, protecting the town. The switch is that the sheriff is more in the vein of Dean Martin’s wounded drunk in Rio Bravo, than a stalwart, rock steady John Wayne. He also has to protect the town from their own citizens at times.
Both Night Passage and Trouble In Paradise set up Stone as the opposite of Spenser. he’s less self-assured, more dependent and involved in those around him, with more than one woman in his life. He does share Spenser’s sense of justice and need to get the job done. It’s comforting to see a writer of Reed Farrel Coleman’s caliber taking on the character. Jesse deserves to be in good hands.