On the one hand, I know that Coleman is a pro, and that he's going to approach each series, each character from a different angle. But he's so effective at writing a broken, grieving Gus Murphy, that you have to expect a grieving Jesse Stone to be written as effectively and with a similar depth. Which gave me a little pause when it came to cracking this one open -- how much of a mess would Jesse be?
Big. A big mess.
Still, I was chuckling within a few pages -- Jesse's pursuing a path to self-destruction unlike any he's had before, even that which cost him his career with the LAPD, but at his core he's still the same guy we've been reading for 20 years. He may not care about himself (or at least he wants to punish himself), but Suit, Molly, and the rest of Paradise. When push comes to shove, he'll do what he has to do. Some times he might need prompting, however.
But let's set that aside for the moment -- there are essentially two stories involving Jesse and the PPD. There's the titular sonnet -- a reference to a legendary lost recording by Massachusetts' answer to Bob Dylan, Terry Jester. Sometime after this recording, Jester pulled a J. D. Salinger and disappeared from the public eye. Jester is about to turn 75, and a large birthday gala is being planned on Stiles Island. Jesse has to consult with Jester's manager, PR agent and the chief of security for the island. Jesse can't stand this idea -- he can't stand much to do with Stiles Island -- he just doesn't want to put up with the hassle, the celebrities, the distraction from the typical duties of PPD. But he doesn't have much choice -- for one, there will need to be something done to deal with the traffic, celebrities, and what not; but Jesse also has to deal with the mayor's political aspirations. And you don't get very far without the support (and money) of celebrities and the positive media coverage that kind of thing should bring.
On the other end of the spectrum, an elderly woman has been found dead in her bed, but under suspicious circumstances. She has deep ties to the history of Paradise, causing her death to grab more headlines than it might otherwise. Did I mention the mayor's political aspirations? Well, the last thing she needs is an unsolved murder when she's trying to cash in on the media attention that Jester's celebration will bring. So she starts applying pressure to Jesse. When Jesse starts to think there's a link between her death and the hunt for The Hangman's Sonnet master recording, the pressure -- and the urge to drink -- increases for Paradise's Police Chief. Thanks to the Law of Interconnected Monkey Business, the reader knew there was likely a link all along, so I don't think I gave away too much there.
That right there would be enough to get me to read and probably recommend. But you add Coleman's writing into the mix and you've got yourself a winner. There's a wonderful passage where Jesse meditates on the beauty of the accessories to his drinking -- the different glasses, the bottles, the rituals. The mystery was solid work -- and I was close to figuring everything out, but not close enough. When the final reveal was made, I felt pretty stupid, all the pieces were there I just didn't assemble them correctly. There were a couple of "red shirt" criminals early on that were so well written, that even when you know they're not going to stick around too long, you get invested in them (one of them had a death scene fairly early that most writers would let be predictable -- and the death was -- but the way that Coleman wrote it got me highlighting and making notes). Coleman even does something that Parker said he couldn't do.
I won't say that everything that happened during Debt to Pay has been dealt with thoroughly -- it hasn't. But, most of the characters have been able to get a degree of resolution and closure that means they can move forward. Not perfectly, perhaps, but honestly. Jesse, in particular, might come back for book 17 in a significantly better place (or at least significantly different) -- but the core will be there, and woe on any criminal that steps foot into Paradise.
Great character moments; slow, organic development; and top-notch writing. Coleman delivers again, continuing to take the foundation laid by Parker and building on it in a way that's true to the spirit of the world Parker created, but brought to us with a newfound depth.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.