Since the closing pages of Blind Spot, I've been waiting for the other shoe to fall victim to gravity. Jesse Stone has been, too. Well, after a more typical Stone novel, the wait is over -- Mr. Peepers, the sadistic hitman that almost killed Suitcase Simpson and evaded Jesse, is back.
Just in time for just in time for Jesse's ex, Jen's wedding.
Before I forget, isn't that a great move? Build suspense by ignoring the cliffhanger-esque ending for a whole book? In the wrong hands, that'd be annoying, but done right? Very effective.
Jesse and his lady-love, Diana (the FBI agent turned private security consultant) are off to Texas to meet Jen's fiance, maybe get a little closure, and covertly protect Jen from the special mix of psychological and physical torture that Peepers subjects his victims to before killing them. While Jesse seems to be several steps behind, Peepers seems to be calling all the shots -- he's got all the power and is making Jesse jump through whatever hoops he wants him to.
Meanwhile, changes are afoot with the Paradise Police Department, State Homicide and Suit's life (and a few other places) -- just so we don't all get too wrapped up in Pepper's quest for vengeance.
As he has in the previous two novels in this series, Coleman keeps things moving at a great pace, the suspense keeps getting ratcheted up -- interspersed by heartwarming, amusing, and troubling moments, so it's not suspense overkill. There are some great character moments -- especially with Diana and Jesse, Suit and a few people, Jesse and a bottle. There's no mystery here -- we all know who the villain of the piece is, the only question is how Peppers will attack and who will remain standing at the end of the book.
In his other major series, Parker introduced a paid assassin, The Gray Man, who almost killed Spenser and plagued him for a while afterwards. Mr. Peepers is far creepier, deadlier, and interesting than the Gray Man ever was. I really didn't like being in that dude's head as much as we were -- which means that Coleman succeeded in making him a terrible person -- I felt like washing my brain out with soap to get over some of the Peepers chapters.
Ace Atkins has returned Spenser to his roots (moved things forward, don't get me wrong, it's not just a nostalgia trip), but Coleman has taken Jesse and the rest and shaken things up -- he's stayed true to the characters, the series, the feel -- but he's pushed things ahead and has probably made more real changes to the series than Parker did since book 2 (but making things feel risky and inventive feels like the roots of this series). Actually, he's not just changed this series -- he's done things that affect the whole of the Parker-verse. Just look at Suit -- everything we need to know about what Coleman's doing to the series is embodied there. I know Coleman's take is not that popular with some long-time fans, but I couldn't be happier -- either with the series as it is right now, or with this book.
This was riveting, literally never a dull moment -- not relentless, you can relax occasionally, even grin. But I had to force myself to put it down to do the responsible adult thing a couple of times. I expect most fans of Jesse and the PPD folks will have similar experiences with Debt to Pay.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from G.P. Putnam's Sons via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.