One of my favorite writers was Robert B. Parker, who wrote scores of crime novels before his death in 2010. Best among them was the series that followed the exploits of Spenser, the Boston private investigator. But Parker also wrote a nifty, if short-lived, series with a believable female protagonist, Sunny Randall, as well as a series of westerns.
Maybe Parker’s most successful “other” series was that featuring Jesse Stone, a alcoholic former cop who is hired as police chief in the New England town of Paradise. Stone is troubled – for a male Parker hero – and struggles with his addiction and his relationships.
After Parker’s death, his wife, Joan (who has since passed) and his estate authorized writers to continue both the Stone and Spenser series. Ace Atkins, a mystery writer in his own right, does a very good job with new Spenser novels. Michael Brandman, who produced a series of Jesse Stone TV movies starring Tom Selleck, was tapped to continue the Stone books.
He’s done three now, with the latest being “Damned if You Do,” and it might be the weakest of the renewed series so far.
That’s not to say there’s not a lot to like about “Damned if You Do.” Brandman has captured the spirit of Stone, the small-town cop who won’t let anything stand in the way of bringing justice to the unjust. The supporting characters are perfect recreations of Parker’s.
But the latest is kind of thin and feels like something Brandman tossed off without a lot of effort.
Parker’s later books, while wildly satisfying, felt pretty slight compared to his meatier earlier stories, so the feeling that Brandman is coasting a bit here isn’t without precedent. But I’m ready to read a book that feels like Jesse Stone – and the writer behind his modern-day adventures – is breaking a sweat.
This story finds Stone investigating the death of a young woman in a seedy Paradise motel. Her death threatens to – but never quite – spark a dust-up between warring pimps.
More satisfying, in a way, is Stone’s crusade to shut down a town nursing home where patients are being abused. But even here, the resolution seems really easy.
Parker’s stories rarely had a lot of twists and turns, as his heroes found a path toward a resolution and bulled their way through to their desired outcome. It feels like, in some of the latter-day books, that the path is just a little too straight and hurdle-free.