This review is the second part of a two-part package. The first part featured an interview with Mr. Parker.
Robert B. Parker would be well justified in resting on his laurels as the celebrated dean of American crime fiction, taking a break after having written more than 50 novels, influencing countless crime writers and winning just about every crime fiction award in existence.
Not only has Parker not taken a break, though, but quite the opposite seems to be happening: While many writers put out maybe one book a year, three new books by him are being published this year alone and it is not even summer yet.
About ten years ago, Parker slipped off my list of favorite mystery authors as I was more impressed by the stories of relative newcomers like Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman and George Pelecanos (all of whom I've been lucky enough to interview). Where their characters and plots were fresh and hip, Parker's were starting to seem tired, with increasingly predictable results. This was bound to happen since he has been writing books about Spenser since 1974.
I still read all of his books, and liked to imagine myself as a pacifist version of Spenser, but I was just not getting the same enjoyment as with past books. But then Parker made two decisions that returned him to my list of favorite, interesting crime writers.
The first decision, to start new series with different protagonists, was not too unusual. Some of my other favorite writers, including Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake, have successfully navigated the challenge of writing multiple series. Parker has said he started writing a series focused on Chief Jesse Stone so he could experiment with writing in third person, as well as developing a character more flawed than Spenser. Stone is a recovering alcoholic, fired from the Los Angeles Police Department, with a marriage that is falling apart.
Parker later started another series featuring private investigator Sunny Randall, the daughter of a police officer, with relatives in organized crime. The series was started at the request of actress Helen Hunt, he said in the interview
The second decision was to have characters cross over from one series into another. This, too, is not unheard of. A Robert Crais character appeared in a Michael Connelly novel and vice versa. But it made reading Parker’s books more interesting when you never knew who would show up next. At first I thought I was delusional in thinking that characters from Spenser’s series were appearing in Sunny Randall’s series. After doing more checking and reading I determined I was not crazy, or at least not on that topic.