Jesse Stone is Saved

Blind SpotRobert B. Parker died in 2010, but his characters Spenser, Jesse Stone and Virgil Cole have lived on in new books by other authors. Ace Atkins pulled off a miracle by writing two Spenser novels that could have been mistaken for the work of Parker himself…and in his prime. Michael Brandman’s three Jesse Stone novels were awful, not just bad attempts at imitating Parker, but horribly-written books by any measure. Robert Knott’s first Virgil Cole book, Ironhorse, was a decent western, but unremarkable and certainly not up to Parker’s level (his second Cole book, Bull River, was a definite step up and, wisely, a few steps away from attempting to imitate Parker). And the less said about Helen Brann’s Silent Night, a misguided attempt to finish the book Parker was writing when he died, the better.

Now along comes Reed Farrel Coleman’s Blind Spot, a new Jesse Stone novel. I should admit a personal bias right off — Reed is a friend of mine and I am a fan of his work.  When I heard he was taking over for Brandman, I was thrilled. I had high hopes for what a writer of Reed’s skill would bring to the series and those hopes have not just been met, they have been exceeded. I am sure I am not going to be the first, or the only, person to say that he has saved Jesse Stone. His book is not only better than Brandman’s three Stone books (which isn’t setting a very high bar) but even better than the last few Stones written by Parker himself.

Reed has saved Jesse Stone by embracing the character, not by imitating Parker’s writing style. He’s done it by making Stone his own. He has fleshed out Stone’s world, and his inner life, in so many ways. His first smart move was making the crime story personal, one that goes to the root of Stone’s character, and that allows Reed to reboot the series, to reintroduce the character, his past, and his relationships and tweak them a bit along the way. He leaves the Stone series in much better the shape than Parker left it (and let’s just pretend the Brandman novels were a bad dream, okay?)

The story begins at a reunion of players from Stone’s short-lived time in professional baseball. The reunion occurs at the same time as a murder in Paradise, the small town where Jesse is Chief of Police. I won’t go into a summary of the plot, except to say it gives Reed ample opportunity to explore Jesse’s character in interesting ways.

There are many references in the story to past Stone tales, a gift for long-time fans, but Reed is not pandering to them. He’s anchoring his new Stone in the old, paying his respects but saying “we’re moving on.” Those references to past events and characters are the only nods he makes to Parker. You won’t find any imitations of Parker’s distinctive writing style and banter, something only Ace has dared, and brilliantly succeeded, in copying. Reed wisely writes in his own voice, one tweaked a bit to suit Jesse Stone but close enough to Parker’s sensibilities that it feels comfortable, familiar, and just right.

My favorite part of Blind Spot is how Reed makes everyone human, especially the bad guys, which is not something Parker ever did. The bad guys were often punching bags for either his supremely confident heroes’ fists or their wit, but they were not living, breathing people.

For Jesse Stone fans, Blind Spot is cause for celebration and, based on the final pages, perhaps some apprehension, too…at least until Reed’s next Stone novel.


It’s Not Just a Summer Fling

boot points finalMy friend Ann Charles writes the Deadwood Mystery series of novels…and has “Boot Points,” a new Deadwood short story, coming out June 25th. In this guest post, she talks about how her “summer fling” with the legendary South Dakota town unexpectedly turned into an enduring relationship… 

Once upon a time, I thought my crush on Deadwood, South Dakota was going to be just a summer fling. Boy, was I wrong. I had fallen head-over-heels.

My fondness for this western town full of rowdy old tales spurred me to write the first book in my Deadwood Mystery series, Nearly Departed in Deadwood. As I filled the pages, I realized the ideas for the colorful characters and their stories had been rattling around in my mind for decades, possibly starting when I was a teenager waiting outside the Prospector Gift Shop in Deadwood for my mom to finish work. Over the years, I soaked up the local history while hiking all over town, strolling around Wild Bill Hickok’s and Calamity Jane’s gravestones at Mount Moriah Cemetery, sitting on the steps outside the Deadwood Public Library, and perusing the tourist shops lining Main Street.

As times changed, so did Deadwood, with casinos replacing many of the stores on Main Street. At first I was sad to see them go, but then I realized that Deadwood had to transform in order to survive.

The same is true of a mystery series. In the second book of my series, I introduced Deadwood’s neighboring town—Lead (pronounced Leed), a five-minute drive “up the hill.” The two towns are like sisters, each enchanting with separate yet intertwined histories. While Deadwood was busy leaving its mark on the history books with tales of Wild Bill Hickok and Seth Bullock, Lead was busy staking its claim on the land. The home of the Homestake Gold Mine for over a century, Lead was the industrial center of the Black Hills. It still has the huge Open Cut mine smack dab in the middle of town.

The Open Cut has always fascinated me. I studied “before” and “after” pictures, read all about its creation (at the Black Hills Mining Museum), and stared at the geological timeline in its terraced walls through the chain-link fence at the Homestake Visitor Center. Why was I so fascinated with a big hole in the ground? Because it revealed a history of hard work, spent lives, and change. It intrigued me how people had adapted to these changes. The stories of their lives could fill books … or a series. If I tossed in a few dead bodies, there would be plenty of material to draw from to fill a mystery series. Nearly Departed in Deadwood 500x1200

These days, Homestake is no longer an operating gold mine; most of the drifts and shafts below the town are filled with water rather than men. But Lead’s industrious spirit is still alive. Coupled with Deadwood’s rough and rowdy past, the towns provide enough fodder, with the right mix of genres, to make a long, twisting tale full of “who-dunnits,” history, humor, paranormal (after all, Deadwood is famous for its ghosts), and a hint of romance.

I’ve now written four novels in the Deadwood Mystery series, as well as two short stories that give backstory on the main character, Violet Parker (a real estate agent and amateur sleuth who also happens to be the single mom of nine-year-old twins). I’m often asked how many more books there will be in the series. When I consider all of the rich, gold-laden history Deadwood and Lead have to offer, I smile like the love-sick fool that I am and say, “A lot more.”

After all, this isn’t just a summer fling I’m having.



Spenser is Back

Ace Atkin's new Spenser novel.
Ace Atkin’s new Spenser novel.

With WONDERLAND, Ace Atkins flawlessly captures Parker’s narrative voice and has written the best Spenser novel in his years. It reads like Parker in his prime, and even without Hawk appearing in the book. There isn’t a single false note in the plotting, character, pacing or prose. It’s an astonishing feat, it’s like he’s channeling Parker from the great beyond. It’s actually better, and truer to Parker and his characters, than the last few Spenser novels that Parker himself wrote. It’s a shame Atkins can’t take on Jesse Stone and Virgil Cole, too.