Between them, Robert B. Parker and Reed Farrel Coleman could likely claim the world’s record for most prestigious awards for best-selling crime fiction. Parker, who earned a Ph.D. in English (he died in 2010) and wrote more than 70 books, was reputed to be the “dean” of the genre, though he also excelled in westerns, his dissertation being on violent heroes. What’s more, his numerous serial and stand-alone novels often found their way to TV, among them, as Tom Selleck fans know, the “Jesse Stone” series on CBS.
Since 2014, poet and novelist Coleman, called the “king of Long Island noir” (he lives in Lake Grove), with the blessing of Parker’s estate, has taken on the Jesse Stone novels, and in Colorblind, the 17th in the series, has produced an exciting plot that nicely integrates exposition about Jesse’s past — as a minor league baseball player, one step away from the majors, and his life as a cop, then LAPD detective — that presents timely new problems for Stone, who is now a recovering alcoholic.
Coleman also shows off his cred as a descriptive writer, such as when Stone muses on the differences between “the stark desert allure of his Tucson youth, the reductive hypnotic blue of the Pacific, and the rocky, white chop of the Maine Coast.”
In command of the elements of fiction, Coleman wastes no time drawing the reader in by way of a heart-pounding opening chapter — a young black woman is fleeing a second gang rape and brutalization on the beach. Stone, now chief of police in Swan Harbor, an upscale suburb north of Paradise, MA, a town that “wore its Pilgrim roots like a neon sign,” is called in to investigate soon after the coma-stricken woman is admitted to the local hospital. He finds himself pulled into a crime with wider, disturbing resonance.
It turns out that a neo-Nazi movement, The Saviors of Society, has established itself in Paradise in order to foment a race revolution. The savage assault on the young woman coincides with the arrival in town of a bunch of toughs on bikes. As Stone says, nothing tops macho behavior like a motorcycle gang, “Not even a sports locker compared.”
It also turns out that Stone’s deputy chief, a young black woman, is being set up to take the fall for shooting an unarmed man. Stone had hired Alisha against political opposition and his reputation is on the line. A man of the law, he is also a man with a heart, and it is to Coleman’s credit as it is to Parker’s that women and minorities are given presence in their series.
Subplots deepen what readers learn about Stone. For one, he’s now a member of AA. For another, he responds with compassion to an angry young man who shows up in town one day, bent on getting himself repeatedly arrested. Who is he and why does Stone intuitively befriend him? No spoiler alert because Coleman has provided an epigraph from 18th Century poet and dramatist Friedrich Schiller: “It is not flesh and blood, but heart which makes us fathers and sons.”
Stone’s not just caring, however. He’s politically savvy. Though he clearly despises The Saviors of Society, Coleman doesn’t hesitate to mock black activist types like the old Rev. Al Sharpton who lent himself to Tawana Brawley’s false accusations.
Stone’s too dedicated to truth, evidence, and fairness to succumb to stereotypes, and he also appreciates real politik: “Nobody loved The United States more than Jesse, but there were times he wished the framers had done a little more tweaking of the first two amendments . . . there were pretty ugly aspects of freedom of speech. Mix those ugly aspects with guns and you could have a real problem on your hands.” Does he ever!
At the end, a reader may wonder about Stone’s fortitude to prevail under extraordinary circumstances, but Coleman, in effect, trusts to a willing suspension of disbelief as he crafts a neat police procedural. As Stone says to himself, “What people misunderstand about police work was that it was reactive. Cops rode the wave or followed the wave onto the beach. It wasn’t the job to get ahead of it. Cops were really like the guys who followed the parade with brooms and shovels, cleaning up the mess the horses and spectators left behind.”
Stone is modest: guys like him, who came up through the ranks because of skills, smarts, and sensitivity, subtly infiltrate the parade to make sure it stays on course and mission.