Sunday, March 15, 2009

Readin': Robert Parker's Stone-flavored popcorn

I've been steadily reading these days, but haven't written anything up in quite a while. As a result I have a backlog of eight books to write about. As several of them can logically be grouped together, I'll do those as groups and get to the singles separately.

Robert B. Parker has been a favorite writer of mine for a long time. His most famous works are the Spenser series (35 books so far). This series was the basis for the Spenser: For Hire television show. He's also got two newer series out as well; one featuring Sunny Randall, a former-cop, now private investigator based in Boston (6 books), the other is centered on Jesse Stone, police chief of Paradise, Massachusetts, a small town north of Boston (7 books).

Parker writes great dialog, perhaps the best I have read. He sets the stage for a conversation and then lets it play out over the course of the next several pages. The art of his books is in the way he allows most of the action to flow from the dialog. It's really well done and the voices of his characters are quite specific and unique. You would never mistake one character for another, even in the midst of a dialog that runs several pages. Because these books are so heavily dialog-based they read extremely quickly. Most of his novels run about 270-280 pages in paperback. If I start one in the early evening, I can be finished with it before bedtime. That's why I refer to them as "popcorn". They are light, generally satisfying, and highly addictive.

High Profile and Stranger in Paradise are the two Jesse Stone novels that I have finished most recently. In High Profile he tells the story of two murders that happen in Paradise that are connected by much more than they appear to be on the surface. A nationally known talk show host is found hung from a tree in a public park. He had not been killed there, but shot somewhere else and then displayed there to be found. The body of his personal assistant, now 10 weeks pregnant with his child, is discovered in a Dumpster behind one of the cafes in Paradise.

Jesse Stone is a former baseball player, former L.A. cop, and alcoholic. His ex-wife, with whom his is deeply enmeshed, is a Boston television personality who has followed him East from L.A.. He is also quite smart, deeply observant, and capable of molding his small-town police force into a something much more than anyone could expect it to be. With a thriving cast of characters in the department, creative possibilities for dialog abound. He is able to do the investigative work and make the connections that allow the complex case to be solved (of course, he is. What would be the point of the book if he didn't solve the case in his alloted 280 pages?).

Jesse is regularly seeing a shrink named Dix to help him figure out both his drinking and his complex relationship with his ex-wife. As a result of that work, Jesse is quite perceptive about human nature and accepting of its wild vagaries. It also allows him to see the depth in the case in front of him and not be distracted by the surface details. With his insight, he is able to get to the bottom of a case that he should not, in the normal turn of events, been able to figure out.

Stranger in Paradise brings Jesse together in an uneasy alliance with a character from one of his earlier novels. Wilson Crowmartie, Crow to almost everyone in the book, is a contract killer who describes himself as an Apache warrior. For all anyone knows, he may well be. He is, for sure, an amazing 'man of action'; highly capable and able to master his fears in a way that lets him operate in very dangerous situations. Jesse wants to arrest him for his actions the last time he was in town, when he ended up getting away with $10 million. Crow has come to town on a contract to return a teenaged girl to her south Florida-gangster father and dispose of the mother. He does not want to do either of those things; fighting/killing women is unworthy of an Apache warrior. He knows that, having found the mother and daughter and reported that to the father, his contract obligates him to finish up. He doesn't and needs Jesse's help to pull off saving them both.

In the meanwhile, the daughter has gotten hooked up with a Hispanic gang in a nearby town and that presents complications. The gang makes contact with the father and takes and executes the contract on the mother. Between Crow and Jesse, they are able to bring the father and gang together in one place and either kill or arrest most of the bad guys. In addition, they manage to extort $1 million from the father and set up a trust fund for the daughter so that she can build a life of her own. There's quite a bit of moral ambiguity for both Crow and Jesse in working together which adds a depth to the book that is quite interesting.

As usual, both novels were one-night reads; one right after the other. I refuse to buy Parker novels in hardbound editions. They read so quickly, it seems wasteful to buy them in anything but paperback. He is, fortunately, quite prolific, so there are usually either a Spenser, Randall, or Stone novel appearing in paperback every 4 - 6 months. With 13 other books to his credit beyond these three series, Robert B. Parker is a very busy man at what he does. Having 61 books to his credit would seem to be enough for almost any author. I enjoy his work immensely, having read all of each series and most, though not all, of the other books besides. Stay well, Robert B., I'd like to keep reading your work.

OK, that's two down and six to go. Three of them are Charles McCarry Paul Christoper novels. Two of them are travel writing focusing on elephants in India by Mark Shand. The last one is a book about working in a restaurant kitchen by Bill Buford given to me by my brother the chef. I will tackle some of them in my next posts. No more this afternoon, I'm leaving soon to go to the state girls' 3A high school basketball finals in Tacoma with my brother and niece (who goes to one of the schools in the final, Kennedy). Bye for now, I expect I'll write more tomorrow.

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These are the things that interest me. If any of them are of interest to you, great. Read along


About Me

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.