4 stars out of 5
Let me get this out of the way up front: I'm giving this book 4 stars because of its interesting, fast-paced plot. But when it comes to character development in the style of the late, great Robert B. Parker, I'd be hard-pressed to give it 3. Conclusion? If you haven't read Parker's books featuring small-town police chief Jesse Stone (this is the 15th, I believe), it's likely you'll enjoy this. If, like me, you've been a Parker fan for many years, maybe not so much.
This book does stand on its own well, although I'm sure I got more out of it because I've read others. And therein, I think, lies part of the problem: Knowing the characters so well from Parker's writing makes it harder to accept them as written by a "new" voice. But that aside, the voices here seem, well, bland. To be sure, Jesse is older and, if possible, mellower; he's pretty much settled into his role in the small community of Paradise, stopped drinking, come to terms with his co-dependent relationship with former wife Jenn (who's about to get remarried), and enjoying the heck out of a woman he's pretty sure he loves more than his ex. Gone, though, is his short, droll style of conversation - replaced by more lengthy ruminations that threaten to bog down the progress of the story.
Ah, but on to the plot - and it's a killer right from the git-go. As Jesse enjoys quality time with his love, former FBI agent Diana Evans, the worst thing going on in Paradise is that some crazy is running around shooting out tires. But then comes the unseemly demise of a Boston crime boss with whom Jesse has enjoyed a tenuous friendship - and the tide turns. It was murder, Jesse believes - done by a never-caught psycho the police have dubbed Mr. Peepers because he resembles Wally Cox, star of the old TV show of the same name that ran from 1952 to 1955. Not all that long ago, the criminal caused major trauma to Jesse and his deputy, Luther "Suit" Simpson. When they prevented one of his murder attempts, Mr. Peepers set his sights on getting even.
Needless to say, Jesse will do whatever it takes to bring him in dead or alive, and the chase leads to Dallas. That's where Jenn soon will wed her filthy rich fiance (Mr. Peepers, you see, has put Jesse, and everyone he works with and has ever loved, on his hit list, and apparently Jenn's name is at the top). But in Jesse's world, things are never quite that simple; will he be able to get his man before the man gets his revenge? I'm not about to tell - read it and find out for yourself.
Robert B. Parker's Debt to Pay by Reed Farrel Coleman (G.P. Putnam's Sons, September 2016); 349 pp.