Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Review: Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot

Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot by Reed Farrel Coleman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jesse Stone takes a few days off from being police of chief in Paradise to attend a reunion of his old minor league baseball club that has been put together by Vic Prado, one of his former teammates who made it to the majors where he had a successful career. Vic is the guy who made the throw that got Jesse hurt and ended his own dreams of baseball glory. He also stole Jesse’s girlfriend at the time and later married her.

And you thought your high school reunion was awkward….

It turns out that after baseball Vic has gotten involved in a shady financial scheme with a dangerous Boston gangster for a partner, and now that the walls are closing in he was hoping to ask for Jesse’s help. However, Vic’s plan goes off the rails almost immediately which gets a young college girl killed and her wealthy boyfriend kidnapped back in Paradise. As Jesse tries to figure out what’s going on he’ll have to deal with the asshole father of the missing boy, a dangerous hit man, and a mysterious new love interest who has her own agenda regarding Vic. If that isn’t enough, seeing Vic opens up a lot of old emotional wounds that make it even harder than usual for Jesse to keep the cork in the Scotch bottle.

This is a fairly odd situation. Robert B. Parker started this series late in his career, and while he tried to make Jesse different his best known creation, Spenser, he was so locked into certain themes and his own sparse style that Jesse came across as just an internalized drunk who was unhealthily obsessed with his ex-wife. Which might work if you’re trying to make a flawed lead character, but RBP also couldn’t really let go of trying to make Jesse a Spenser-esque hero, either.

Then after RBP’s death his family had Michael Brandman carry on the Jesse Stone series, and since Brandman had been a producer/screenwriter on a pretty good set of TV movies based on the books that seemed like a solid choice. However, the three books Brandman did weren't good with Jesse coming across as a terrible cop who abused his authority for minor matters while ignoring bigger crimes.

I assume the fan response to Brandman was why Reed Farrel Coleman replaced him, and the results are promising in this first attempt. The biggest difference is in character work because RBP pretty much just worked off established templates in his later books so everybody seemed thin and one note. Here, Coleman spends time building up all the major players so that they all have inner lives and a distinct point of view. Coleman manages to build up some nobility and sympathy for a villain who seems irredeemable at the start, and even an entitled star athlete like Vic who is entirely motivated by self-interest has a world view a reader can understand.

In Coleman’s hands Jesse finally seems like a wholly realized person, and not like some shambling Frankenstein’s monster made up of random bits leftover from RBP's files and unproduced screenplays. He’s still an internalized guy who is struggling to cope with alcoholism, but he’s more self-aware of his flaws instead of seeming like a robot fueled by Scotch. While Jesse still has many of the tough-guy traits you’d expect in this kind of series, he also seems more like a decent guy doing his best rather than someone who thinks he’s above normal human interactions.

It’s not a home run of a book. The plot wanders somewhat, and I found the way that several of the bad guys suddenly develop consciences late in the book unbelievable. I also wasn’t wild that while wrapping up most of the story that it ends on a big cliffhanger.

Still, this was a Jesse Stone book that I mostly liked so maybe the third writer is the charm. 3.5 stars.

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