Title: Robert B. Parker’s The Devil Wins: A Jesse Stone Novel
Author: Reed Farrel Coleman
Format: Hardcover edition, Putnam
As I’ve said before, Robert B. Parker is probably the writer that has influenced me as an author and as a fan the most. Not only because of his Spenser series, what I still consider possibly the best Private Investigator series in the modern era, but also because of ex big city cop turned Paradise, Massachusetts Police Chief Jesse Stone. Parker’s second best known series is a departure from the insightful, self assured Spenser and presents with its lead character as being skilled, but damaged and the eternal question being which will outweigh the other, the brokenness or the ability.
With Parker’s passing in 2010, other authors have picked up the banner for at least three of Parker’s four existing series and this installment of the Stone books, The Devil Wins, is penned by Reed Farrel Coleman.
A massive winter storm reveals three bodies in a collapsing factory on the industrial side of Paradise. One body is quite recent, while the other two turn out to be two teenage girls who went missing a quarter of a century earlier. Thrust into the national limelight once again, Jesse is a stranger in a new way in his new hometown. Although everyone from Paradise and seemingly across the state of Massachusetts, is familiar with this cold case and has an emotional attachment to it, Jesse faces it as someone detached. That both comes to his aid and to his detriment as Molly Crane, his most trusted officer, turns out to be tied directly into the mystery of what happened to her two friends while they were still in high school.
For walking Parker’s beat, so to speak, Coleman does a fairly decent job. All the characters ring as true as ever, from Captain Healey to Suitcase Simpson to some of the supporting cast of townspeople that have appeared in other books. The characters new to this volume also fit right in, all seeming to be woven into the weird mix of suburban angst and rural melancholy that makes Paradise so vivid and real. The storytelling fits in well, too, making this almost feel like a Parker entry into the series.
The only real issue I have with The Devil Wins is actually the portrayal of Jesse himself. What makes Stone work as such a rich and exciting character is the fact that there are chinks in his armor. Not subtle little dents, but major gaping holes in the calm and collected persona he struggles to portray, but never pulls off. Coleman recognizes this, focuses on this, and actually makes it too much a part of the narrative. Although the underlying theme to any Jesse Stone novel, a definite subplot each time, Jesse’s growth and overcoming of his own demons should be just that, something that occurs as the story prompts, as the mystery moves it along. What happens in this book is that Jesse’s own issues almost threaten to overwhelm the primary story and take center stage. Coleman keeps that from happening, but only barely, so fortunately Jesse doesn’t end up seeming as maudlin as he almost does. But it is really close for comfort.
This is a good read for Stone fans and doesn’t make a bad one time read for people unfamiliar with Jesse and his cast. But, even with that, it still only garners three out of five pages.
The Devil Wins is an average read for me, so it gets three out of six bullets in my gun. I read it, enjoyed it for what it was, a new chapter in Jesse’s story, but likely won’t revisit it as I will other books about Stone.