Published on: September 15, 2017
Robert B. Parker’s flawed Massachusetts police chief Jesse Stone returns this week in a new novel by Reed Farrel Coleman, “The Hangman’s Sonnet,” with an entry that finds Stone barely hanging onto his job and sanity after the murder of his fiancé in the final pages of the last book in the series, “Debt To Pay.”
“The Hangman’s Sonnet” concerns a series of murders that seem connected to a so-called lost album recorded decades ago by a now-aging folks singer, and it is up to Jesse and the Paradise, Massachusetts, police department to put the pieces together. It is a solid procedural, told with attention to detail - as with the best of the genre, it generates a kind of momentum that keeps the reader moving from page to page and chapter to chapter. And there’s even a cameo appearance by Parker’s other major creation, Spenser, the Boston private detective who has headlined some 46 books and counting.
Since Coleman took over the Jesse Stone series - Parker passed away in 2010 - he has turned out increasingly complex books that have dug deeper into Stone’s psyche than Parker did. Largely, this is because Coleman is a very different kind of writer; a highly accomplished novelist, his other series - with protagonists such as Moe Prager and Gus Murphy - are as focused on damaged and guilt-ridden heroes as on the cases they investigate. In the case of Stone, Coleman seems to have connected to his protagonist’s past as a professional baseball player and current drinking problems to an extent that Parker did not, and “The Hangman’s Sonnet” uses his alcoholism and almost broken spirit as major plot points.
I love Parker’s work, but I think it is fair to say that he wore his angst a lot more lightly than Coleman does. The music of Coleman’s writing tends to be more mournful than Parker’s was, and he reaches for soulful character notes that Parker did not. (This isn’t to say that one approach is better than the other. They’re just different.)
As I think I’ve noted here before, Coleman’s Stone books have an entirely different rhythm than Parker’s, which works because they’re written in the third person and don’t use the first person narration of the Spenser series. (Ace Atkins has been masterful in capturing Spenser’s voice in the books he has written about him since Parker’s death.) Parker loved dialog, and tended to be minimalist in terms of physical descriptions, though when he did them the result was a kind of hard-boiled poetry. Coleman’s books depend more heavily on narrative, but that’s okay, especially since he’s writing about characters who to many of us are old friends.
“The Hangman’s Sonnet” is a terrific entry in the Jesse Stone series, and I recommend you check it out.
Last night, my daughter took me to a concert … which all by itself would be cool, but this concert featured Kelly Clarkson, so it was sort of a big deal. I have to admit that I may have been the only person in the wildly enthusiastic audience who was completely unable to sing along with the plethora of hits that she performed, being woefully unfamiliar with her oeuvre. But I have to say that I had a great time … there’s nothing like spending an evening with an adult child, and in this case, I found Clarkson to be a funny, absolutely winning performer with a great sense of how to tell a story and when to be charmingly self-deprecating.
I was reminded of a conversation that I had with Ric Jurgens, who used to be the CEO of Hy-Vee, many years ago, in which he told me that even after his kids became adults, one of his great pleasures was to go with them to CD stores and pick out music together; it gave him a sense of their evolving musical tastes, he was exposed to stuff he might not have known about, and he got to share precious time with his children. When he told me that, at a time when my kids were quite young, with was with the suggestion that I should find similar ways to continue connecting with my kids. That’s advice I have taken quite seriously over the years.
I do have to wonder, though, since I haven’t talked to Ric in a long time … what does he do with his kids these days, since there aren’t really any CD stores around anymore? He’s been retired from Hy-Vee for awhile, but I’ll have to look hum up one of these days…
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.