A nor'easter hits Paradise, Massachusetts, and when the storm has passed, three bodies come to the surface, as it were. One is an unknown man, only recently killed, the other two are the skeletons of two young girls, gone missing on a Fourth of July some twenty-five years before. And as Jesse Stone discovers, no one in Paradise really wants to talk much about the girls, or their disappearance, not even Molly Crone, his best cop. It's a great set up, as Jesse has to work to get beneath the rubble of silence and memory, and the killers work to make sure he doesn't.
I've written before about the difficulties of continuing another writer's character, and indeed have reviewed Michael Brandman's Jesse Stone novels (you can link to the most recent here). Now Reed Farrel Coleman has taken up the mantle, and the result is again something different from Robert B Parker's original.
It's a bad situation: if you stray too far from the original, you risk alienating fans, but more importantly you risk losing what it was that made the character and the stories, compelling. I've just reviewed one of Max Allan Collins' Mike Hammer novels; Collins has the advantage of working from Spillane's starts or outlines or notes, and he stays pretty close to the original; his prose style is somewhat less direct, though the bigger problem is that Mickey's stories are generally set in times the reader doesn't necessarily identify with Hammer. Coleman's problem is somewhat different. Brandman's Stone was the one from the TV movies he produced; still large part Parker, but somewhat dominant over the supporting cast, whose parts became smaller largely because Parker was so good at delineating character in short scenes with compact dialogue.
Coleman has brought back some characters, but he also seems to have strayed further away from Parker's Stone. It's partly a question of writing: Coleman's style is not the swift clean prose that made Parker's stories flow and work; he does far more telling than showing. More importantly, his Jesse appears to have far less inner confidence to draw back on: Jesse Stone is like a part of Spenser, and he can do things Spenser can't, like enjoy other women while staying faithful to the idea of his ex-wife Jenn. Well, this Jesse Stone can't do that, and he's having more trouble with his drinking too. His shrink, Dix, is back, but this Dix isn't really as penetrating as Parker's. And most importantly, neither Molly, who is at the heart of this story, and Suit, who recovering from a shooting and therefore not patrolling, are drawn as fully as they should be; Molly should be because of her inner turmoil and also because Coleman seems to be foregrounding Jesse's attraction to her.
Coleman's big strength is plotting, and though some might find a few things easy to guess, there is a neat twist toward the end. In fact, a twist as neat as the one in The Will To Kill, the Spillane which was my previous review, and it helps the story to have it.
Robert B Parkers's The Devil Wins by Reed Farrel Coleman
No Exit Press, £7.99 ISBN 9781843448464
Note: This review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)