Saturday, 24 December 2011


Michael Brandman's Killing The Blues is the first of the posthumous continuations of Robert B Parker's characters, being the tenth Jesse Stone novel (Ace Atkins will pick up the Spenser franchise) and it's interesting in the way in strives to match Parker's concerns, and tone. It's more successful in the former, especially once it gets going, because action is character and once Jesse begins trying to help out kids with problems we enter familiar Parker territory.

Brandman produced, and co-scripted with Parker a couple of Spenser TV movies starring Joe Mantegna, which attracted little attention around the turn of the century. He and Parker then did a remake of Monte Walsh, which starred Tom Selleck, which led to a quite good series of Jesse Stone TV movies, starring Selleck as Stone (I reviewed Stone Cold favourably years ago for Crime Time, and might revisit the series later here). In that sense, for Brandman it's a continuation, but when it comes to tone, there is a bit more of the Selleck Stone, and a lot more of the TV movie. Brandman's Stone is somewhat darker, a bit more confrontational, and much more aggressive, than Parker's. He's made his task a little easier by writing out Sunny Randall, and bringing a new girlfriend on the scene. She seems more like Jesse's long-lost Jen than a perfect mate for him, but as always in these series, one assumes things will evolve.

The biggest change is in Spenser's supporting cast: Molly, who's a mothering sort of figure with Parker, becomes an even sassier version of the TV movie character, and Suitcase Simpson's role seems diminished. It's as if this Stone is more of a TV series police chief, and needs an action sequence every now and again; the kidnapping and holding of a small-time gangster seems quite out of character for the old Jesse, but the new one is a man of action. Which also changes the nature of his sessions with Dix, the shrink (played wonderfully by William Devane in the TV movies) because Jesse seems far more in control and far less revealing.

The story itself is very much in the Parker vein, it moves well, and the scenes are delineated clearly. But what it most lacks is Parker's ability to draw a character quickly and concisely, to establish with just a small description and a couple of lines of dialogue, a person you could see and understand. It was his greatest talent as a writer, and it would be asking a lot of Brandman to match it. But while the story is constructed cleverly and delivers at the end, its most powerful scenes are not, as they would be with Parker, the one-on-one confrontations with mobster Gino Fish, because Fish's character just doesn't explode. But the single best scene may be when Fish sends his hitman, Vinnie Morris, off on a job, and when's he's done it he delivers Fish's message: 'always look on the bright side of life'. It isn't really Fish, or Morris, but it many ways it's pure Parker.

Killing The Blues by Michael Brandman
Quercus £18.99 ISBN 9781780872896

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