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 what came before).
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 tan others inte 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.
The novel begins by focusing on Jesse's minor league career, prompted by a reunion of his Minor League team, hosted by the only memeber of that group to make it to the Major League, Vic Prado. During the festivities, both Vic and his wife approach Jesse indivually, 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'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.
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, none of which raise to the level of 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 (see the fuller version of the review of the list of gripes).
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.