Published on: September 11, 2015
About a year ago, I committed a kind of heresy when I wrote about Reed Farrel Coleman's "The Blind Spot," saying that "it may be the best Jesse Stone novel yet. And that includes the nine books in the series written by its creator, Robert B. Parker."
Coleman, for the uninitiated, has been hired by the Parker estate to continue the Jesse Stone series in the same way that Ace Atkins is now writing the Spenser novels, using characters created by Parker, who passed away in January 2010.
This week, Coleman is out with another Stone novel - "The Devil Wins," and again, he does not disappoint, as he continues to explore the flawed, heavy-drinking, justice-obsessed Stone with surgeon-like precision and a masterful use of language.
One of the things that separates Coleman from Atkins is the same thing that separates the Stone novels from the Spenser series. The Spenser novels are written in the first person, and so the narration has to be in a voice that sounds like that created by Parker. Atkins isn't at all imitative, but he realizes he's playing music that is well known to the audience, and so he knows there are beats he has to hit if the character is to be credible to those of us who have been reading Spenser novels for decades. It speaks to Atkins' skill that he's been able to capture the voice and the themes and still maintain a high level of originality.
Coleman, on the other hand, has more freedom - he's writing in the third person, so he can bring a different kind of observational skill to the proceedings while never being dispassionate about his protagonist. In a lot of ways, he's more critical of Stone's flaws and more willing to examine them than Parker was; he also has an entirely different writing style, going way beyond the minimalism that characterized Parker's work, especially as he got older.
But it works. Brilliantly. "The Devil Wins" actually has a mystery at its core, and crimes for Stone to resolve. (Parker famously once said that very few of his books were "about who stole the Maltese Falcon," but rather, essentially, about the necessity and intangibility of love, written about within the framework of a hardboiled American detective novel.) As he does so, in the north Massachusetts shore town of Paradise, Coleman's writing reminds me of the work of Ross Macdonald, who would explore how the sins of the past would be visited upon younger generations, creating inevitable and unavoidable consequences.
"The Devil Wins," by Reed Farrel Coleman, is a terrific piece of work. Read it.
Two tangential notes...
• Tom Selleck, who produced and starred in a series of highly rated Jesse Stone movies for CBS, brings the character back to the Hallmark Channel in the first of two new movies, Jesse Stone: Lost In Paradise
, on October 18.
• Coleman, who was acclaimed for his Moe Prager series before he started writing the Jesse stone books, will launch a new series of original mysteries about a retired cop named Gus Murphy, with "Where It Hurts," due out next January.
I can't wait.
While I was off last week, I had a chance to catch a bunch of movies ... one of which I loved, most of which I found to be flawed, and one that was an utter disappointment.
The one I loved was Ex Machina
, a nifty futuristic thriller about artificial intelligence. Domhnall Gleason plays a young computer coding expert who wins a company lottery and is flown to the isolated retreat owned by his boss, Oscar Isaac, where he is asked to spend a week evaluating the artificial intelligence of a robot created in the image of a beautiful woman, played by Alicia Vikander.
But from the moment he arrives, nothing is quite what he expects it to be, and it is possible that nothing is what it seems ... and his task escalates into a full-scale struggle that is part man vs. machine, and part battle of the sexes. This is my kind of science fiction - thoughtful, provocative, with hardly a wrong move or a gratuitous scene. The performances are uniformly excellent, and the writing and direction by Alex Garland is outstanding. Put me down as an enormous fan of all of the above, already looking forward to the next movie that Garland makes.Mad Max: Fury Road
is a continuation of the iconic series of films that George Miller made decades ago, with Mel Gibson as Max, trying to survive a violent post-apocalyptic world while traversing a desolate landscape. Tom Hardy takes over as Max in this new film, in which Miller seems to be indulging his desire for over-the-top action by using effects and techniques that didn't even exist when he made the earlier films. The film's vision of a world gone mad is, indeed, startling and evocative.
Halfway through the movie,I wasn't nuts about it, but by the time it was over, I'd changed my mind ... in part because while Fury Road
is just one really long car chase, Miller does manage to insert just enough plot to keep the audience engaged. Hardy is fine, by Charlize Theron really steals the show as the one-armed Imperator Furiosa, who is desperately trying to help a group of women escape from the tyrant who has enslaved them. You have to like this kind of stuff to like Mad Max: Fury Road
,and I'm glad stuck with it.
I also saw Kingsman: The Secret Service
, the James Bond-parody starring Colin Firth, Michael Caine and Taron Egerton, the latter as a young man recruited into Her Majesty's Secret Service, ending up doing battle with a mad internet tycoon, played for laughs by Samuel L. Jackson.
In this case, I liked the first half of the movie, but disliked the second half, as it devolved into senseless violence and silliness. The actors were all good, but were let down by a script that didn't seem to understand that while less often is more, more often is way too much.
Finally, I was most disappointed by A Walk InThe Woods
the very loose adaptation of the Bill Bryson book about walking the Appalachian trail, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. One of the changes made for the movie is that Redford's Bryson is much older, and so the hike becomes about proving oneself at an advanced age. The problem is that the writing is like that of a sit-com, the direction is pedestrian, and there is no chemistry at all between Redford and Nolte, who are supposed to be old but entirely dissimilar friends. (Redford at one point was going to do it with Paul Newman, who died before they could make the film. That would've been a lot more interesting.)
I hate it when, while watching a movie, I can see plot holes through which I could drive a large truck and start fixating on them; if I'm paying attention to the holes (and this movies has dozens), then I'm not involved with the characters. Bad sign. For me, there was hardly a real moment in this movie - everything seemed staged, random, and largely without roots in basic human emotions.
I love Redford as an actor. I think the world of Bill Bryson as a writer. (His "In A Sunburned Country" is one of my favorite books.) And I feel bad that for me, "A Walk in the Woods" ended up being a complete misfire.
I'm thrilled to have Stephen Colbert back on TV hosting "The Late Show," but I have to say that I think the producers are trying to stuff 20 pounds of flour in a 10 pound bag. I know there are certain things that late night talk shows are supposed to do, but this week at least, I would've been happy to watch Colbert interview Jeb Bush and Elon Musk, and not bother with George Clooney and Scarlett Johansen. Or maybe they need to cut back on the comedy bits at the front of the show.
In Colbert, CBS has a guy who is smart, amazingly fast, and erudite ... and they ought to let him be all those things and not worry so much about the Hollywood stuff. That said, Colbert - the person and the show - seems to be bursting at the seams, he's so happy to be back on TV ... and maybe after a few weeks things will calm down a bit.
I'll also tell you something else. Last night's interview with Vice President Joe Biden was an extraordinary piece of television, showing us two people who were, at least in the moment, completely without artifice. It was raw, human emotion. It was captivating TV.
On the basis of that alone, I'm willing to hang in for the duration.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.