With The Bitterest Pill, Reed Farrel Coleman’s latest continuation of Robert B. Parker’s character, Paradise Massachusetts Police Chief Jesse Stone, he delves into the town growing and taking on more big city crimes when a drug ring’s merchandise takes the lives of some of the teens. We talked to Reed about the evolution of the character and his surroundings.
- What drew you to looking into the opioid crisis as a backdrop?
Truthfully, I hate theme-driven books. So while the crime in this novel is centered around the opioid epidemic, it’s not a book about the epidemic itself, but rather how the epidemic resonates throughout an entire community. I was inspired by reading novels by two of my writing heroes, Don Winslow and Michael Connelly, in which each takes a different slant at the epidemic. I thought I might have a third take on how it rears its ugly head in small town Massachusetts.
- There is an interesting parallel with Jesse dealing with people addicted to drugs while he is doing his best to contend with his alcohol addiction. Where do you see him with his battle?
That is exactly what appealed to me as a writer. How does a man battling and struggling with his own addiction deal with other people struggling with an addiction to a controlled substance. Jess is many things, but he isn’t a hypocrite. So he doesn’t take a holier than thou stance. He understands the insidious nature of addition, so he’s not trying to get the users into trouble. He’s trying to find them help while at the same time trying to stem the flow into Paradise. Readers will see several junctures in the novel when Jesse is reminded of his own addiction and how it colors his decisions.
- How do you see the relationship with his new ound son effecting his life?
Well, there are several surprises there for readers. It’s always important for Jesse to have more than one issue to deal with. In the past it’s usually been the crime he’s trying to solve and his drinking and/or his relationship with women. Now that Jesse’s been to rehab and is going to AA meetings, he’s got to deal with a fully grown son who has shown up in town and who is living with him. It’s a fascinating dance between father and son, but I’ll leave it there.
- Jesse has to interview and work with a lot of teenagers in his investigation. What do you have to keep in mind when writing for teens?
Since Jesse is a new father—although his son is an adult—he is new to the minefield. He has in several earlier books dealt with teenagers, but now he has skin in the game. His perspective is very different from those earlier novels. Jesse realizes this and seeks Molly’s advice. It’s her voice Jesse hears in his head when dealing with the teenagers.
- Due to events in the series, Jesse deals with Vinnie Morris more. What has made him a fun character for you?
Well, having grown up in Brooklyn, mob guys are always a fun subject. And Vinnie is by his very nature an interesting man. A sharp dresser and a dangerous man, he’s also prescient and smart. He often gives Jesse, with possibly the exception of Molly, the best advice. It is Vinnie, after all, who had warned Jesse that as Boston encroached on Paradise, its sins would encroach as well. And, of course, there is an explosive secret between them dating back to Diana’s murder and Mr. Peepers. They are bound together, for better or worse.
- The book also deals with the town of Paradise itself growing. Are you doing this to give yourself more venues to explore or did it just come organically to the story?
One of the things I realized as I took over the series and re-reading the canon was that I could only keep things local for so long. I didn’t want to risk boring the readers or myself. First, I expanded Parker’s Paradise to include different areas—The Bluffs, The Swap, Pilgrim Cove—and then thought the town had to evolve. I don’t enjoy static series. That’s why I aged Moe in my Moe Prager series. In each of the nine novels in that series, Moe was a different age, his marital status was different, his job status was different. It kept me interested. I can’t really do that with Jesse, so I changed the town instead.
You can purchase Robert B. Parker’s The Bitterest Pill at BookPeople in-store and online now.