- Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
In Reed Farrel Coleman’s latest Jesse Stone novel, Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet, the Paradise police chief is mourning the death of the woman he loved, hitting the bottle hard again, and hit with a series of crimes revolving around a reclusive folk singer and the legend of a lost recording. Reed’s understanding and exploration of emotions makes this a stand out in the series, He was kind enough to answer a few question about his direction with Jessie and writing some of the other characters in his world.
MysteryPeople Scott: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you used the previous book, Debt To Pay, to move Jesse more into the realm of the themes and personal challenges you like to write about. Your voice comes through clear in The Hangman’s Sonnet and you are more able to deal with emotions closer to the way do with your own characters. Did you feel more in your own zone with this one?
Reed Farrel Coleman: You know, Scott, it wasn’t premeditated, but I think you’re right. Part of that simply comes from feeling more comfortable in writing the series. After four books, I feel close enough to the characters to have a better understanding of their internal lives. And one of the things I have always said about taking over the series is that Mr. Parker left a lot of room for the people who inherited the series. There was so much unexplored territory in the nine books Bob wrote and the three subsequent books by Michael Brandman. For instance, although the novels are set in Paradise, Mass, there isn’t a whole lot of exploration of the town in Bob’s and Michael’s books. So I had room to expand on that and have, turning a more focused eye on the town. Similarly, there was a lot of room left for me to explore within the characters themselves, especially Jesse. It’s my comfort zone and I have to think Bob would approve. I’ve always said that Ace Atkins has the tougher job because he has so much less free space to operate in.
MPS: In some ways you put Jesse in a place of grieving where you started the Gus Murphy series and Moe Prager has had to mourn in a few books.
What draws you as an author to have them lose someone they love?
RFC: Because I think characters and, for that matter, real people, reveal themselves for who they actually are under the most extreme circumstances. In crime fiction, it’s very easy to show characters in extremely dangerous situations or situations where the cops/PIs/amateur sleuths et al, witness other people’s grief. But I think it’s very revealing to show protagonists in the midst of grief and mourning.
MPS: How does Jesse’s grief process differ from Gus’s?
RFC: Interesting question. With the murder of Diane, Jesse loses his fiancée and the first woman with whom he had a loving and healthy relationship. Terrible. Still, even Jesse would tell you that the loss of a child is worse. In the first Jesse novel I did, Blind Spot, Jesse even discusses it. Although Jesse is knocked off his pins by Diane’s murder, he will recover. Gus will never fully recover from the loss of his son. Never. In fact, the loss leads to changes in Gus so extreme that he begins to believe he is no longer the same person. As Gus says in What You Break about the stages of his life in relation to the loss of his son: “Before John Jr. During John Jr. After John Jr.”
MPS: With the legend of Terry Jester, you have that writer challenge of creating a pop culture character, that everybody was supposed to know, running around with actual artists like Paul McCartney and Jackson Browne. How did you approach him?
RFC: I had a lot of fun with it. I mean, even his name (Jester), was a bit of a wink at the camera and readers. If you recall the lyric from Don McClean’s “American Pie” about “the jester on the sideline in a cast,” you might remember that this was a reference to Bob Dylan and his motorcycle accident. I thought, hey, why not? And I’m old enough to remember that there were a lot of ’60s ” pop stars” that we were sure would last forever and who history has all but forgotten.
MPS: I really loved the character of Hump. He does some bad things but he also acts a little as comic relief and near the end I felt for the guy. How did you approach him?
RFC: Exactly as you have stated. He’s kind of a sweet-hearted buffoon, a little like Lenny in Of Mice and Men. He does bad, but almost innocently and at the behest of people he trusts. And yes, you should feel sorry for him at the end because he comes to the realization of what his life has amounted to. Also, there is something we connect to in someone who appreciates beauty even if he can’t explain it.
MPS: You have a cameo by Spenser. Did you have to keep anything in mind when writing for the famous PI?
RFC: I had to check with Ace to see if it was okay with him and then I ran it by him to see if he bought it as Spenser. Since my books are in third person, I didn’t think I needed Ace to actually write Spenser’s lines. I guess Ace thought I did it well enough. Let’s face it, they exist in the same universe and deal with some of the same people, Vinnie Morris, for example. I think it’s cool that there is some crossover. Now if we get ahold of a literary time machine, we can have Jesse Stone and Spenser help out Cole and Hitch.
You can find copies of The Hangman’s Sonnet on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.