As I indicated in the set of reviews I posted back in May, I greatly enjoyed the Jesse Stone movies starring Tom Selleck that were broadcast on CBS in 2005-2012. I’ve now finished reading the original novels by Robert B. Parker, including the crossover novel from his Sunny Randall series in which Jesse is a major character. (Since Parker’s death, the novel series has been continued by Michael Brandman, executive producer of the film adaptations, but I haven’t made it to those yet.)
There are, as you’d expect, a number of differences between the novels and the movies. In the books Jesse is quite a bit younger, but otherwise the character is pretty similar, especially in his style of police work and his manner of speaking. Parker reportedly thought very highly of Selleck’s portrayal.
Other notable differences include the fact that Jesse’s ex-wife is a voice on the telephone in the movies but a major in-person presence in the novels. In the films Jesse and his dog live in a big house, while in the books he lives in an apartment and has no dog. The city of Paradise has a larger police department in the books. The plots of the first three films diverge from those of the novels they’re supposed to be based on, and the fourth film is very different. After that, the films are no longer based on specific novels. Finally, the second novel was adapted before the first (and as I said in my reviews of the movies, I think it’s better to watch the second movie first).
Here, for what they’re worth, are my brief reviews of the novels:
Night Passage (1997)
As with the film adaptation, the novel opens with Jesse looking out over the Pacific in the wee morning hours, waiting to sober up so he can begin his long drive across country to his new job as police chief of Paradise Massachusetts, a coastal town north of Boston. As we learn through some flashbacks during his drive, he’d been a Los Angeles homicide detective married to a gorgeous young actress, but she started sleeping with a producer to further her career, the marriage fell apart, and he was fired for drinking on the job.
Jesse’s drinking is a serious problem but not entirely out of control, and he has good cop instincts, so he suspects there must be some reason why Hastings “Hasty” Hathaway, the bank president who’s the main mover and shaker in Paradise, was happy to make him police chief when no one else would offer him a job. But he doesn’t have much choice, and small-town Massachusetts has the advantage of being about as far away as he can get from his life in Los Angeles.
Unlike Parker’s other series, this one is narrated in the third person, which allows spending time with other viewpoint characters, including the villain. The writing is quite good and the characters interesting. The mystery plot proper impressed me rather less, some of if having to do with a right-wing militia I thought far-fetched, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the book.
Trouble in Paradise by Robert B Parker (1998)
I like the second Jesse Stone novel as well, if not quite so much as the first. Jesse and his ex still have feelings for each — she’s even taken a job as a weather girl for a Boston TV station in order to be closer to him — but neither is she ready to recommit to him, and in fact she quite soon starts sleeping with the news anchor, as Jesse discovers by staking out her apartment. In the meantime he continues to date other women himself, and the amused (and likely envious) cops who work for him make a point of buying him vitamins.
On the mystery side, a bad guy from out of town launches the crime of the century in a ritzy island community linked to the mainland by a single bridge.
Death in Paradise by Robert B Parker (2001)
Jesse investigates the murder of a high school girl whose parents deny knowing her. There are signs a Boston mobster introduced in the first novel might be involved. Jesse seeks help for his drinking from an ex-cop turned therapist who battled a drinking problem of his own.
Stone Cold by Robert B Parker (2002)
Paradise is targeted by a husband-wife pair of yuppie serial killers who get off on murder and risk. In the meantime a high school girl is gang-raped by some classmates, including a local football hero, who take photos and threaten to humiliate her if she says anything.
The latter plot thread is remarkably close to a couple of widely reported incidents that took place more than a decade after this was written but in both fiction and reality a remarkable number of people side or at least sympathize with the rapists. (A female reporter in one of the real-world cases lamented how the promising young men’s lives had been ruined by their convictions.)
Sea Change by Robert B Parker (2006)
The main mystery in the fifth Jesse Stone novel has to do with a woman whose remains are found in the harbor during what’s called Race Week, a series of yacht races that actually lasts closer to a month. Jesse’s investigation leads to a couple of yacht owners from Florida and their male and female friends who are devoted to sex parties and the like and who probably knew the deceased though they deny it.
The victim’s young sisters, rather ditzy twins, show up and unlike their parents actually seem to care about what happened to her. Off-screen they consult a Boston private eye who’s clearly Parker’s main series detective Spenser, though he’s never actually named. There are a number of overlapping characters in the two series, including a Boston lawyer who knows Spenser and occasionally sleeps with Jesse.
Speaking of which, as usual a lot of women want to get him into bed but for once Jesse declines their offers largely because he’s hopeful of starting things up again with his ex. Maybe his uncharacteristic inactivity on that front explains the title.
Blue Screen by Robert B Parker (2006)
This is the fifth in a series of mysteries featuring and narrated in the first person by Boston private eye Sunny Randall, a woman with a small dog who’s the daughter of a cop and the ex-wife of a man whose father and uncle are major organized crime figures. I mean Sunny is the daughter and ex-wife, not the dog.
But this is also in effect Jesse Stone 5.5. Sunny is hired to play bodyguard to a strikingly beautiful and athletic actress who lives at her producer’s garish mansion on the exclusive island that previously featured in Trouble in Paradise. When a murder takes place, she winds up helping police chief Stone investigate, and they really hit it off. Like Jesse she’s pining for an ex and like him she’s fond of casual sex and apparently quite good at it.
As with the (other) Jesse Stone novels, the book is very readable and the writing and characterization often witty.
High Profile by Robert B Parker (2007)
A well-known and generally well-liked political commentator is found murdered in Paradise, and later another victim, a woman, shows up in a Dumpster. Jesse is constantly pressured by the media and the governor of Massachusetts to solve the first murder, though no one, not even her family, seems to care about the non-celebrity. And in the celebrity’s case, only the first of his three wives appears to really miss him.
Meanwhile his ex-wife Jenn comes to Jesse for help because she’s being stalked, and since he’s so busy with his police duties he comes up with the bright idea of asking his private eye girlfriend Sunny Randall to act as her bodyguard when he’s not available. To complicate things, Sunny is surprised to discover she actually likes Jenn.
(A curious error: The Jesse Stone novels are Parker’s only series written in the third person, but at one point a line of dialog is tagged “I said.” Habits die hard, but you’d think this would have been caught in the editing.)
Stranger in Paradise by Robert B Parker (2008)
William “Crow” Cromartie, one of the bad guys in Trouble in Paradise, returns to the general vicinity of the crime for an entirely different purpose. Jesse is pretty sure Crow is a murderer as well as a thief, but he can’t prove anything other than a few lesser felonies for which the statute of limitations has run out.
Crow is, at least partly for the fun of it, looking for someone on behalf of a bad guy. When Crow reports he’s found the person and asks now what, he’s instructed to kill a woman and kidnap her daughter. But part of Crow’s eccentricity is an odd sort of gallantry, and he refuses, even though (or perhaps partly because) he knows that will result in a contract hit on himself.
A subplot has to do with anti-Hispanic racism that might have a hidden motive.
As usual it’s a quick read, with a fair amount of non-explicit sex and some nice plot twists.
Night and Day by Robert B Parker (2009)
A local peeping Tom who calls himself The Nighthawk starts sending strangely literate letters to Jesse, expressing worry that he might do something much worse but warning that he’s way too smart for a small-town cop like Jesse to catch him. Meanwhile a school principal who acts inappropriately won’t be prosecuted because her husband is a high-powered and well-connected Boston lawyer, something that really irritates Jesse, and a teen girl having trouble with her parents comes to him for help.
The story is in many respects a change of pace, with a series or more or less serious crimes but no murder.
Split Image by Robert B Parker (2010)
The final Jesse Stone novel, published a month after Parker’s death, has Jesse teamed up with again with Sunny Randall, this time working on two separate cases, one involving a young woman whose parents want her out of a religious cult (though it seems fairly benign) and the other the death of the employee of one of a pair of mobsters who live next to each other in matching mansions and are married to hot identical twins.
Parker seems to have anticipated that this novel might be the last, so he wraps things up reasonably well at the end. As noted above, however, he series has been extended by the executive producer of the television adaptations, Michael Brandman.