Monday, September 30, 2019

Review: Robert B. Parker's Damned If You Do

Robert B. Parker's Damned If You Do Robert B. Parker's Damned If You Do by Michael Brandman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I hate to see anybody lose their job, but I understand why Michael Brandman was replaced as the writer of this series.

Small town police chief Jesse Stone has two big problems. First, after a young female prostitute is murdered in a seedy motel Jesse has to first identify her, and then try to find her killer which puts him in between a couple of rival pimps. Second, Jesse suspects that the local nursing home is both negligent and abusive in its care of its elderly residents, but the company that owns it has already survived one scandal thanks to an army of lawyers so getting it shut down won’t be easy.

As I’ve noted in the reviews of the other two Brandman books I’m baffled at how badly he whiffs on these because he was a producer and screenwriter of several TV movies starring Tom Selleck based on this character, and they’re actually pretty good. So having him take over after Robert B. Parker’s death seemed like a no-brainer.

He did some stuff I like such as having Jesse finally get over his awful ex-wife and address his drinking problem. Yet, he comes across as incredibly bad at his job. In these recent books Jesse seems to fixate on trivial aspects of what’s going on while ignoring major things, and he generally delegates most of the work to other people. There are also several examples of abuses of power by a police chief. So the character has become inconsistent, incompetent, and just a bad cop all around even as he’s still presented as our hero.

Part of the problem is that the world created here just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Any fictional story about a cop, particularly a series like this, is going to have stretch things past the point of reality, but this gets too far off the rails. For example, one of the suspects in the woman's murder wants to kill Jesse later in the book and word gets out. Several people act like Jesse is all on his own, and that he should drop the case. Even one of his own police officer's tells him to forget about the investigation. That’s completely unbelievable, that everyone acts like a police chief is so at risk from one minor criminal that he’d consider dropping a murder investigation. Cops just don’t operate like that, even small town ones.

Another crazy thing is that when Jesse starts going after the crooked rest home we hear a lot about how this company has enormous influence and power. Yet when Jesse starts using local fire and health inspections to get the place cited their response is to first try and bribe him, and then later several of the people in charge go after Jesse and other cops physically. That’s not how white collar criminals do things. Even if they had financial problems they’d just declare bankruptcy and find a way to walk off with a bunch of cash and come up with a new scheme.

There’s also some lazy inconsistencies. Jesse had a cat in the last book, and every time he goes home Brandman made a point to have him interact with the cat who is all over him. Here, we follow Jesse through his evening routine as he’s thinking about what’s going on a couple of times without a single mention of the cat. Yet, late in the book the cat just shows up again with no explanation as to why he wasn’t around earlier.

Another one is that per the earlier books in the series and the TV movies, Jesse doesn’t wear a police uniform. Brandman never describes what he’s wearing on the job here, but I assumed he was still wearing civilian clothes but it’s never made clear. In one scene, Jesse borrows a nightstick from one of his officers to beat the shit out of some people so you think that he is not walking around with all the gear that a uniformed police officer would be. However, in the very next chapter Brandman has Jesse pull a nightstick off his own service belt without ever explaining why Jesse would need to borrow one in the previous chapter, and the way it’s presented here is that he always has one on him.

It’s a parade of things like that which make Brandman’s run on this series such a mess. It’s ill-defined and sloppy in many ways while he focused on trying to do the Robert B. Parker style of dialogue. He doesn’t really pull that off either.

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