Saturday, 20 March 2010


Split Image is the first Robert Parker novel published after his untimely death. It is the ninth Jesse Stone novel, and it also brings back Sunny Randall, who has featured in six novels of her own, but who works better as a foil to Jesse than she does on her own. Part of that is because originally she and Jesse faced the same psychological dilemma, being in love with people they couldn't live with, and each was in effect the perfect solution to the other's problem. Where the Spenser novels deal in relationships, the Stone books delve more directly into the world of sexuality--Jesse is every bit as irresisitible as Spenser, but his tragic devotion to his ex-wife doesn't extend to keeping him celibate. I've speculated before that Jesse is Spenser's id, with a less strong ego but not bound at all by Spenser's super-human super-ego.

This all makes for a rich concoction when Spenser is drawn into the case of a murdered mobster, Russian muscle who worked for one of two mob bosses 'retired' to Paradise, whose wives just happen to be identical twin sisters once known as the Bang Bang twins. The plot is a bit contrived, even for Parker's later work, but as usual there are one or two memorable characters, most notably the wife of the murdered Russian's wife, and as usual Parker's dialogue sets scenes quickly and gives them punch lines. It's odd, but when Stone delivers them he sounds more and more like Tom Selleck, who's played him in a number of made-for-TV movies. I still can't see Helen Hunt as Sunny, though.

Meanwhile Sunny is investigating a teenaged girl who has gone off to live with a group called The Bond Of The Renewal, who of course have their HQ in Paradise, and whose bonds are more than just spiritual. Sunny is good with disturbed teens and their even more disturbed parents, and just to round the circle off neatly, disturbed teen that she is, her therapist is Dr. Susan Silverman, the erstwhile partner of Spenser.

The contrivance of the story is not so much for the purposes of advancing the plot, as examining ideas about the human psyche. Because what Parker has done, especially since he settled Spenser and Susan in together after their memorable difficulties in the 1980s, is to use Stone and Sunny (and in many of the later Spenser novels, the characters thrown up by the case) to examine issues of human sexuality and relationships. It's all very Cambridge (Mass., not Cantab) all this discussion of needs and fulfillment and support and upbringing: a sort of psychological Ross MacDonald trip into the pasts of his characters, but written with the fast paced flippancy that reads like Raymond Chandler refined or distilled or condensed. There's nothing memorable at all about Split Image, but I didn't put it down, and that's as good a defintition of Parker's power as a novelist as I can think of.

Split Image by Robert B Parker
Quercus, £18.99 ISBN 9781849160735

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

I loved the first few Spenser books - way back in the 80s - but then Parker fell in love with Spenser's sidekick (was he called Hawk?) and it all became stodgy, a bit like the interminable relationship with the girlfriend, Susan, which became laborious if you couldn't see what Spencer ever saw in her. It's always such a shame when this sidekick worship kicks in - I really enjoyed the first few Robert Crais books, until his hero, Cole, couldn't appear without the unlikely Pike (what is it with monosyllabic Ted Hughes style names - Thrush anyone?), and yet another dreary girlfriend to be put in harm's way. There must be a better way of developing a series. (Even Lawrence Block's wonderful Scudder ended up with a Woman In Peril.)