CORRIDOR OF MYSTERY
VOL. 8, No. 11
RON MILLER ROBERT B. PARKER'S SIXTH
JESSE STONE MYSTERY
A puzzling double murder
ties up Chief Stone's life
By RON MILLER
You have to believe that Robert B. Parker is the mad scientist of matchmakers when it comes to mixing up the love lives of his characters. This habit he has of stirring up their libidoes in his three series of mystery novels finally reaches what may be its finest hour in his new book, "High Profile" (Putnam, $24.95).
This is the sixth in his series of novels about Chief Jesse Stone of Paradise, Massachusetts--the ones that CBS has been turning into TV movies starring Tom Selleck as Chief Stone.
In this mystery, top-rated network radio talk show host Walton Weeks is found hanged by the neck in a wooded grove on the island resort community of Paradise. He'd been shot to death, then hanged, apparently by a killer who wanted to "display" the corpse of the popular radio star for everyone to see.
While hundreds of reporters and TV crews descend on Paradise, an island suburb of Boston, the body of Weeks' attractive personal assistant is also found murdered, her body tossed in a dumpster. The post mortem exam shows that she was pregnant with Weeks' child.
For Chief Stone's tiny police department, this is an extra-heavy load. Stone has to solve two complicated murders that obviously are linked while being hounded by all those reporters, digging for scoops. As if that weren't enough, the governor steps in and demands a quick resolution of Weeks' murder because he was one of the governor's close friends.
That's when Parker decides to really put a load on Chief Stone, a recovering alcoholic who's seeing a shrink already because of his screwed-up personal life. In the middle of this, Stone's ex-wife, Jenn, a beautiful TV weathergirl, comes to him in a state of emotional shock because she's just been raped.
If you've been following the Jesse Stone series, you already know that Chief Stone is incredibly hung-up on his ex-wife. He has had to abandon several promising relationships with women because he just can't get Jenn off his mind. At the same time, Stone is getting real heated up over Boston P.I. Sunny Randall, the key figure in another Parker series of mysteries, and is even thinking about marriage.
Good old Bob Parker is downright diabolical. In his main series of mysteries featuring Spenser, another Boston P.I., he keeps bringing back pivotal characters to interact with Spenser, who has never married, but is in a VERY long-term love relationship with psychiatrist Susan Silverman. One of them is sexy criminal lawyer Rita Fiore, who has made at least 1,700 plays for Spenser, who always tells her "thanks, but no thanks."\
With Rita's frustration reaching the explosive point, Parker sent her over to Paradise a few times to tempt Chief Stone. They got along fine, as you might imagine, but Stone wasn't ready to give up Jenn for Rita, even though Jenn is somewhat promiscuous and has been with at least a couple hundred guys since she and the chief split up.
Meanwhile, Sunny Randall has had trouble getting over HER ex-husband, a guy whose family is very big in the Boston underworld.But in her last novel, "Blue Screen," Parker put her and Chief Stone together. You had to stand back to avoid having your eyes put out the way the sparks started flying.
So, with a potential merger of his two series stars, Stone and Randall, looming, Parker throws another log on the fire in "High Profile," having Chief Stone call upon the services of Sunny Randall to protect ex-wife Jenn and find her rapist while he devotes all his time to solving the double homicide.
Now picture this: Sunny is now on the job trying to protect the woman who stands between her and total happiness with Chief Stone.
Soon the solving of the murders starts taking a back seat as we focus instead on the totally screwed-up personal lives of Jesse, Jenn and Sunny, not to mention the amusingly ambitious adventures of Jesse's larger-than-life police sidekick, "Suitcase" Simpson, who wants to be promoted to detective, even though Chief Stone keeps reminding him, "We don't have any detectives in our department yet."
I love this book. Parker knows how to balance all the tangled tendrils of his storyline and keep having them pull you back into the book like the tentacles of a giant squid that doesn't want you doing anything else but reading. Everything works out fine, but I'm not giving anything away.
Now that he's up in his 70s, Parker is still pumping out these absorbing mysteries at an awesome rate. (He has another one coming out in April, yet another in June.) He's now juggling three parallel mystery series and still finding time to knock out a couple of "stand alone" non-series novels a year.
Will he ever resolve the private lives of his characters? Oh, I hope he does. I have this hunch he's going to wind up doing a "Love Boat"-style mystery with Spenser, Susan Silverman, Hawk, Rita Fiore, Jesse and Jenn Stone, Sunny Randall and a host of other characters all out at sea on a mystery cruise with a slew of dead bodies and just as many suspects. In the course of things, I expect the love affairs will all be sorted out and maybe even somebody will get Spenser drunk enough to tell his first name.
Not likely, you think? Well, you can't blame a guy for wishing.
©2007 by Ron Miller. The book cover illustration is courtesy of Putnam. This column first posted March 5, 2007.
Ron Miller is a former nationally syndicated television columnist and the author of "Mystery! A Celebration," the official companion book to PBS' "Mystery!" series. He currently writes about television mysteries for MYSTERY SCENE magazine.
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