Review: Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman

Robert B. Parker's The Hangman's Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman is the 16th Jesse Stone novel.

Paradise’s Chief of Police Jesse Stone is in a really bad place. None of his usual crutches—booze, throwing a ball into his beloved baseball mitt, babes (consensual relationships with intelligent women), losing himself in police work—are working. His life has been in a downward spiral since his fiancée Diana was murdered.

Jesse doesn’t really have the option to stay in a state of drunken stasis, however. His loyal deputy, Suitcase Simpson, has asked him to be his best man. On the morning of the wedding, an elderly woman, one of Paradise’s old guard, is brutally murdered. They say trouble comes in threes—the mayor, not one of Jesse’s fans, has told him to do everything in his power to ensure that a birthday celebration for Massachusetts’s answer to Bob Dylan goes swimmingly.

The morning of the wedding, Jesse learns that a gala 75th birthday party is to be held for folk singer Terry Jester. Jester, once the equal of Bob Dylan, has spent the last forty years in seclusion after the mysterious disappearance of the master recording tape of his magnum opus, The Hangman's Sonnet.

The Hangman’s Sonnet is the 16th book in the Jesse Stone series. Reed Farrel Coleman does an excellent job of carrying on Robert B. Parker’s legacy. Jesse is as laconic as ever. Showing up at Suit’s wedding is difficult yet so necessary; he decides to hide out in his office before showtime.

Fully sober for the first time in weeks, Jesse Stone was pounding the ball into the worn pocket of his old glove. As he slammed the ball into the glove over and over again, he stared out his office window at Stiles Island and the morning sunlight reflecting off the dark blue waters surrounding it. He was trying to steady his hands and empty his mind.

Some men prayed the rosary. Some meditated. He wasn’t one to overthink things. At least he hadn’t been until Mr. Peepers had shot Suit. Jesse could trace his self-doubt and second-guessing back to that bloody day. How many times in the last few months had he traced a jagged red line from the day Suit was wounded to the day Diana was killed? How many times had he rehashed the events between those two incidents, questioning his decisions? And today those questions rang in Jesse’s ears as loudly as they ever had.

A Jesse Stone who questions his decisions? A man who doubts his capabilities and second-guesses his moves? This is not the Jesse we know, which is unfortunate for the good citizens of Paradise as the body count mounts. The old lady’s murder is tied in with a publicity-filled search for The Hangman’s Sonnet’s master recording tape. Will the real Jesse Stone step up? His loyal staff covers for him in every way possible because they know what he’s going through, how Diana’s murder affected him.

For the past several months’ since witnessing the love of his life murdered right in front of him, Jesse had pared his existence down to three stark essentials: grief, regret, and Johnnie Walker Black. They had become like a noose around his neck to the exclusion of everything else, including his job as police chief.

Speaking of Johnnie Walker Black, in The Hangman’s Sonnet, Jesse’s relationship with his favorite fluid undergoes a sea change. In the past, “functional alcoholics like Jesse found romance in all the aspects and rituals of drinking.”

No, the clinking of the ice in the glass, the pour of the rich amber fluid, the peaty aroma, the hiss when he twisted the bottle cap, the glug of the soda pour, the swirling of the glass were as much foreplay as anything else.

The shift is from functioning to not. Jesse misses clues and nuances, seemingly “a dollar short and a day late” when it comes to solving the case. Eventually, he goes back to basics. Every Jesse Stone story is a dance between how he did things in LA and how he chooses to be the Police Chief of Paradise.

“When you want the guy at the top, you start at the bottom of the totem pole and work your way up” is what Jesse’s first detective partner had said to him. It was advice he heeded every time he’d built a case against someone up the food chain. And that was just what he meant to do now.

Looks like Chief Stone is back in the saddle again. Welcome back, Jesse.


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Janet Webb aka @JanetETennessee has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on the books of Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anne Perry … I'm always looking for a great new mystery series.

Read all of Janet Webb's articles for Criminal Element!


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