Friday 27 January 2012

Robert B. Parker: Night Passage Reviewed

 Night Passage is the first in the Jesse Stone series, seeing Stone move from Los Angeles to Paradise on the Massachusetts coast to take up a position as Chief to the small Paradise Police Department. A good opportunity for a respected LAPD homicide detective, except the alcoholic Stone has just been fired by the LAPD.

So, why should the moneyed society of Paradise hire a lush, a man who was drunk for the job interview? Yes, there's something rotten in that society and they'll be quite happy to see a bumbling idiot in charge of local law enforcement. Little do they know they're not getting an idiot and that the bumbling ended with that job interview.

Jesse's alcoholism and its main cause, his ex-wife Jenn, are strong themes in all of the Stone series. That might be an early warning sign for some of you - don't let it be. His personal actions, his relationships, are in marked contrast to his functioning as chief. His attitude to law enforcement and his conduct are the bedrock of his life - he blew it in LA, he's not going to do the same in his new life.

Equally, the tone in which the books are written is light - there's crisp dialogue, action without excessive adverbs, tight plotting. Maudlin the series isn't.

What is the plot? Banker and foremost citizen of Paradise leads militia known as The Watchmen, preparing for the day that the UN, Jews, Mexicans and anyone else with more than a slight suntan invades the USA. They have the constitutional right to bear arms and they're damn well going to - something that leads to an unfortunate outcome with certain Boston crooks. A steroid-abusing muscleman named JoJo is the interface between the honest citizenry and the career criminals. He soon falls foul of Jesse, bested physically and mentally by the strength that poeple didn't think Jesse had when they appointed him.

JoJo embarks on a slightly psychotic killing spree, partly for money and partly because he enjoys it. The ex Chief is murdered many miles away. Evidence for the latter points to a member of the Paradise PD - Jesse is left wondering who, if any, of the police he can trust.

Efforts to clean up after crimes inevitably allow the unravelling of ill-thought out schemes and finally the militia march on the police station, ready to kill Jesse. The line is drawn: who will stand on either side will determine who lives and who dies. The one thing that won't happen is that Jesse will compromise or surrender.

Given this is the first of a series. I'm sure most of you will guess the broad outcome. Robert Parker doesn't do huge surprises but he does do small ones with élan. And if you like his style, as I do, you'll find this very readable. If you don't, you'd probably call it competent. As with the Spenser novels the violence is understated and you aren't forced to read bad sex scenes - another set of books for those who apprciate good writing aimed at adults.


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