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Death in Paradise

Robert B. Parker

G.P. Putnam's Sons

US Hardcover First

ISBN: 0-399-14779-9

Publication Date: October, 2001

294 Pages; $23.95

Date Reviewed: November 10, 2003

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2003




Robert Parker is the acclaimed author of over 20 Spenser mysteries, and the one detective writer who has most successfully channeled the hardboiled writing of Raymond Chandler in the 40's to the hardboiled mystery novels of the 80s and 90s". 'Death in Paradise' is not a Spenser novel; it's a Jesse Stone novel, Parker's third. Jesse Stone is Spenser redeux and Parker re-energized, and that's just fine with me.

Jesse Stone is the Chief of Police in Paradise, Mass, a small town outside Boston. He's also an alcoholic, fired from the LAPD's high-profile homicide division for drinking on the job. He's unhappily divorced from Jenn, the love of his life, but in unique Parker style, they're still dating. In 'Death in Paradise', Stone investigates the murder of a fifteen-year old "town pump" whose body is found floating on a nearby lake. He also takes on an abusive husband and his cowering wife, and the ruthless doings of a famous local author. Paradise may be a small town, but it's not dull.

Parker mixes amusing small-town stories - a lost dalmation dubbed Deputy, a disorderly skunk - with big-time Boston hoodlums and child prostitution in his unique, fast-paced style. His plots are solid and contemporarily realistic, and they unfold with rapid pace and plausibility. His ancillary characters, while thin, are always realistically and sensitively drawn. But Parker excels, here and in the Spenser novels, with his dialogue, simply the best in detective fiction. Quick, witty, often glib, and always simply a joy to read, Parker's dialogue tells his stories, develops his characters, and wins the hearts of his readers. Not laugh out loud funny, Parker's dialogue takes the form of droll and witty repartee, often deadpan in its delivery, and always delightful in its impact. It would be unseemly to drool further.

Stone and Spenser are alike in temperament and different only in details. Spenser has no first name, while Jesse Stone obviously does; Spenser has super-sidekick Hawk, while Stone has no sidekick at all. Spenser is a gourmet cook; Stone's a former minor league baseball player. Spenser is in love with Susan; Stone is in love with Jenn. Both are true romantics, equally tough and tender, tenacious and introspective. Both Spenser and Stone have well-honed internal justice-meters that register right and wrong and compel them forward despite danger or loss; there's little moral ambiguity in their worlds. But Jesse Stone has a flaw, his alcoholism, which threads through these novels as a subterranean theme, reminiscent of Block's great Matt Scudder alcohol sub-plots. Not only does the reader want to find our whodunit, they want to find out if Jesse will take that next drink.

To those who might know Parker only from that non-descript 'Spenser' TV series with Robert Urich, well, erase it. Like a tomato in the grocery store, it looked real, but just tasted bad. Read a Parker book, the early Spenser books are terrific, as are all the Jesse Stone novels. Parker's books are quick reads, great character-driven detective novels with robust writing and delightful, humorous dialogue. His plots are real but not excessively dark; they encompass violence, but none too graphically described. To some hypermodern mystery readers, Parker's novels may seem tame, insufficiently gritty and violent But if you're looking for a well-told mystery, with involving characters tackling meaty issues, and top-of-the-genre writing, Parker's your man. Yeah, I'm an unabashed Parker fan, he's certified solid gold in my book, and I just hope he keeps 'em coming.