Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Parker keeps 'em comin'
Split Image, the latest entry in Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series, will be out on February 23, both in hardback and Kindle editions (the series began nine books ago with Night Passage). Here's a look at some thoughts I shared last year, on various online venues, about Night and Day, the previous installment of the series, currently available on Kindle for $9.99:
Robert B. Parker's many fans immediately perk up when the writer offers a new entry in one of his various crime thriller series, and this time we get to enjoy the newest adventures of the author's Jesse Stone character. Jesse is the police chief in the fictional seaside town of Paradise, Massachusetts, where he spends his days fearlessly fighting crime and imparting lessons to the citizenry. Sadly, however, Jesse still spends his after-hours free time torturing himself with thoughts of his ex-wife Jenn, who periodically flits into Jesse's life when she needs support, guidance, and affection, but then inevitably flits away because she can't make any true and lasting commitment to him. This fascinating formula- strong crimefighter by day, week-kneed, trod-upon lover by night, is once again firmly in place in Night and Day, the ninth entry in the series.
Incidentally, if you've seen any of the nicely done Jesse Stone television movies starring Tom Selleck as Jesse, you have a good idea of what the book series is all about, though Jesse is about 20 years younger on the printed page. However, both book and television versions of the character struggle with alcohol in the same way, often drinking too much but so far resisting full-blown alcoholism.
Mr. Parker's addictive novels almost always feature strong sexual subplots and/or subtexts in addition to the main plotlines. Here, though, the sex is front and center with three- count 'em, three- main sex plotines: 1) Paradise is in an uproar after a school principal insists on inspecting her female students' undergarments to make sure the little darlings aren't wearing anything too provocative; 2) a Peeping Tom is terrorizing the town's quiet streets, trying to catch women getting undressed or getting out of the shower as he peers through their windows; and 3) a young girl comes to Chief Stone (after meeting him during the case of the skimpy underwear) because she's disturbed by her parents' swinging/partner-swapping lifestyle. Jesse hops among the three cases, each heavy with obsessive behavior in some way, which in turn makes him think of his own near-obsession with his ex-wife Jenn. Clever, no?
With the story advancing mostly via short, rapid-fire dialogue sequences, Night and Day is an especially fast read, even by Mr. Parker's own well-established standard for lightning pacing. This didn't bother me, as Mr. Parker has never been about dense prose. He's always said a lot with a little. But if you're one of those readers who regularly complain that Mr. Parker's publishers disguise his essentially short novels as longer ones via thick paper and double-spacing, you'll probably complain again here.
Little treats abound. We get to see the author's blonde and perky, yet very dangerous, P.I. character Sunny Randall, who's actually been through a lot since we last saw Sunny in her own series entry. It's interesting, though, that we find out a few new developments in Sunny's life, including the passing of her beloved dog Rosie, via this book instead of a book in her own series. Happily, the book also features- just maybe- a final resolution to the Jesse/Jenn merry-go-round. But the jury is still out on that score... at least until the next Jesse Stone book. As said, Jesse's weakness when it comes to Jenn is an interesting contrast to his usual strength and confidence, but I can't argue with those who want to see- after nine books- some resolution to Jesse's romantic situation.
One thing in "Night and Day" was kind of strange, however. For a bunch of characters (Jesse, uniformed cops Molly Crane, Suitcase Simpson, and a few others)) who have consistently displayed high libidos, sexual adventurousness, and general openmindedness during the course of this series, they were suddenly moralistic, puritanical, and judgmental in their views and interaction with the Paradise Free Swingers, the swinging group that ties into a couple of the plotlines here. Mr. Parker's portrayals didn't help matters, either. Of the swingers we get to know a little, most are either weak women who were forced into the lifestyle by their husbands, or husbands who are creeps or worse. I'm not defending or promoting that particular way of life, but it would have been a little more interesting if there was at least one upbeat, positively-portrayed swinger character that Mr. Parker dared us to like a little.
I did enjoy the book overall, though. These characters are like old friends now, and it's always fun to see them. By now, they interact like parts of a well-oiled machine, drawing us right into the proceedings as efficiently as ever.
But I think I agree with many other readers who have weighed in on Jesse's latest tale: I'm ready for the seamy stuff to be put on the back burner for a while. Let's have Jesse take on a regular old murder mystery or bank heist plot next time. Seamy can be fun, but ultimately only in small doses.