I was surprised last week, though not shocked, to see that Michael Brandman - producer and co-writer of the Jesse Stone television films starring Tom Selleck - had written the first new Jesse Stone novel since Robert Parker’s passing in January 2010. It’s called Killing the Blues, and it’s not what I’m here to suggest, as I haven’t read it as yet, but it got me thinking about how much I’ve enjoyed the Stone series. After years of 1st person storytelling with Spenser, Parker created his other, great male protagonist in Jesse Stone. And while Stone was certainly different than Spenser (though still similar), the greatest change was that these books are written in the 3rd person. This gave Parker much greater leeway in his storytelling, and I dare say he created a more fully crafted character in Jesse Stone. Where Spenser is essentially the perfect man (in Parker’s mind), Stone is a recovering alcoholic whose “recovering” status is often in question; his career as a ball player fell apart; he’s been fired as a cop; his marriage failed, yet he can’t seem to break the tie between himself and his ex-wife. Yet, this is a Parker novel, after all, so he does manage to seduce or be seduced by most of the women who come within 10 feet of him, but I’ve always felt a connection to Jesse that was just as strong as my connection to Spenser. So, if you’ve never read Parker (how is that possible?), or you never warmed up to Spenser and his idealized self and girlfriend, try the Jesse Stone novels that begin with Night Passage. Parker may not be around to craft more of these tales, but we can relish the nine he left behind.
If you’re a mystery reader, and you love authors such as Robert Parker, Sue Grafton, Michael Connelly, Sara Paretsky, or James Lee Burke, make sure you go back to the start and read one of the writers that not only inspired your favorite author, but created the genre, in the first place.
This is the first book to feature legendary private detective Philip Marlowe, and it’s The Big Sleep (1939), by Raymond Chandler. His depiction of Marlowe, along with Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, created the image of the private detective that has been used countless times in books and films over the last 70 years. But the creation of a character type is far from Chandler’s greatest value. Chandler wrote in a truly evocative way that continues to give the reader a full sense of Marlowe’s Los Angeles of the 1930′s and ’40′s. He created complex plots where no one’s motivations were clear, and each character had layers of development that only revealed themselves as the story got closer and closer to resolution. Or perhaps I should say a sense of resolution, as Chandler’s stories were never cut and dried cases. This novel – like all of Chandler novels – is atmospheric, moody, filled with terrific dialogue that is so memorable you’ll find yourself re-reading passages just to enjoy his turns-of-phrase one more time. So go back to the start of the hard-boiled P.I. genre and enjoy your visit to Los Angeles!