Carry On Sleuthing ...
Robert B. Parker’s “Damned If You Do”
TO BE HONEST, I think Colin Dexter had the right idea: in hopes that no one would be inclined to continue his Inspector Morse series after his death, the author wrote The Remorseful Day, in which his cranky, opera-loving detective dies.
Not that this strategy always works. Even after Arthur Conan Doyle sent Sherlock Holmes plummeting to his death, he brought the detective back years later for The Hound of the Baskervilles, a tale that apparently happened before the Great Man’s demise.
After the success of that novel, and bowing to public pressure, Conan Doyle had no choice but to rescue his creation from that watery grave and continue his adventures. Of course, since the author’s own death, literally dozens of Holmes pastiches have appeared. In fact, if the slough of recent film, TV, and literary incarnations is anything to go by, the Baker Street sleuth has never been more popular.
My point is that some characters are just too potent in the cultural imagination to perish merely because their creators did. A striking example is James Bond. After Ian Fleming’s death, his estate chose spy novelist John Gardner to chronicle the further exploits of 007. Gardner ended up writing 16 Bond novels — two more than Fleming himself produced.
I confess to having mixed feelings about this trend, which is why I was reluctant to read a book called Robert B. Parker’s “Damned If You Do.” It’s a new Jesse Stone novel, written by Michael Brandman, who manages to recreate quite well the late Parker’s lean, compressed style.
As in Parker’s own novels about the police chief of Paradise, Massachusetts, Brandman offers minimal descriptions of characters and locales, moving the plot along primarily through dialogue. And pretty snappy dialogue, at that.
In this third Stone novel penned by Brandman, a young girl is found brutally stabbed in a seedy beachfront hotel. An unidentified Jane Doe, barely out of her teens, the only thing Stone knows about her for sure is that she didn’t deserve to die. Determined to find her killer, Stone’s investigation leads to a deadly turf war between two rival pimps. At the same time, the taciturn police chief is distracted by the discovery of a friend’s abusive treatment at a retirement community.
Brandman does a good job keeping both narrative threads going. In fact, he actually provides more in the way of plot than many of Parker’s own novels. And, as mentioned above, in terms of style and ease of reading, he successfully channels Parker, such that long-time fans of the famed author should be pleased.
However, for readers new to Chief Stone and the New England town he protects, the lack of even rudimentary location and character description — My kingdom for an adjective! — might prove frustrating. It did for me. More than once, I wished for the story’s events to be more, well, “grounded.” I wanted to know where in space and time I was, what someone was feeling, what the room he was in looked like. Regardless, I believe that Parker himself would be gratified by what Brandman has done with the character and the series.
As for the practice of other writers continuing the adventures of iconic characters whose creators have passed on, I suspect it’s a trend that will only continue. Even as I was writing this review, I learned that a new Hercule Poirot novel is on the way. I can only hope the fussy sleuth’s “little grey cells” will still prove as formidable as when Agatha Christie employed them.
Reposted from Los Angeles Review of Books