Me and Robert B. Parker go way back.
Sometime 20 years ago or more I bought a paperback copy of Parker’s “Taming a Seahorse” at a used book store and discovered his tough and smart Boston private eye Spenser. As written in spare — increasingly so, as the years went by — style by Parker, Spenser was a former boxer, former cop and intellectual “thug” who, like classic private eye heroes before him, took on hopeless cases and lost causes.
Spenser wasn’t a highly deductive detective. He was more likely to start pressuring peripheral players in a crime until they crumbled and pointed fingers at the Big Bad behind the scenes. Part of what was appealing, besides Spenser’s moral code, was his unwillingness to give up.
Spenser and another character created by Parker, Jesse Stone, have a lot in common. Sure there’s the series of CBS TV movies about Stone, a small town New England police chief (played on TV by Tom Selleck, who’s too old for the part but plays it to perfection). They share some of the same supporting characters but most importantly they share the same stick-to-it-iveness. Once Stone takes up a cause, be it an abused teen or victims of a sinister goon, he never gives up.
Parker, unfortunately, was mortal, unlike his best heroes, and died in January 2010. I was afraid his books and characters would die with him.
So far we haven’t heard about any other authors continuing Parker’s Sunny Randall books, or his series about stoic cowboys. But Parker’s estate and publishers have announced that a good mystery writer, Ace Atkins, will continue the Spenser novels with a new one to be published next year.
And Michael Brandman, one of the men behind the Jesse Stone TV movies, was chosen to continue the Stone books.
I wasn’t certain I would enjoy Brandman’s take, which is called “Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues.” But I read it this week and believe Brandman is the perfect guy to continue Stone’s advantures.
Right off the bat, Brandman makes some choices that vary from those Parker would make. He gives us a few sparing glimpses inside Stone’s mind, something Parker would pretty much only do when Stone, an alcoholic and troubled man, talked to his therapist.
Brandman also takes us — even more sparingly, thank goodness — into the head of one of Stone’s antagonists, a felon who comes seeking revenge because Stone, drunk and angry at his then-wife, had pistol-whipped the man years before. Stone’s past comes back with a vengeance in this book.
“Killing the Blues” has a lot going on, from the revenge-seeking felon to mobsters operating a murderous car theft ring to a molesting teacher to mean girls at the local high school in Stone’s picture-postcard town, Paradise.
Brandman balances it all quite well. Maybe as good as Parker at the top of his form. Maybe even better.
I’m looking forward to seeing what Ace Atkins will do with Spenser, but I’m sold on Brandman’s continuation of the Jesse Stone books. I can’t help but think Parker would approve too.