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Stone in Love

  Stone Cold: A Jesse Stone Novel
Robert B. Parker
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2003
Rating: 3.4

Posted: October 25, 2003

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Jesse Stone, police chief for the small suburban town of Paradise, has come a long way. Once a rock-bottom drunk with a career on the skids, he's built a new and better life for himself, having wrestled the bottle to a draw and won the respect and even admiration of his employees, townspeople and colleagues. A former L.A. cop, he's adjusted well to the rhythms of small-town policing without losing his edge. And as frequently happens to males in Robert B. Parker books, he's an object of lust for several engaging and attractive women.

So what is this guy's problem? What is the kryptonite that reduces him from studly sheriff to a scary alcoholic with anger-management issues? That would be his ex-wife, Jenn, a former aspiring actress who's moved all the way across the country to Paradise, Massachusetts, to take a job as weather girl for a local station. Why? So she can lead Stone in a codependent dance of "I love you but I must be free to sleep with other people so that I can be who I am." For reasons even Stone himself can't fully fathom, he endures this in the name of "love." You say tomato, I say patsy. But hey, if the guy's happy, where's the harm, right?

Well, turns out Jesse isn't all that happy. Who would be, when you're being jerked around by someone who won't commit to what you want, and you know deep down that you're either too stubborn or too stupid to wrestle free of them? No, our Jesse's not a happy boy, even though women are throwing themselves at him at a rate even romance novels and porn flicks would consider excessive. Even though one of those women is a hot lawyer named Rita Fiore, a tough-as-nails criminal attorney with a voracious sexual appetite. In fact, he's so not happy, he's letting the bottle get the better of him. And he's given to stupid stunts like confronting Jenn and her latest beau in the parking lot outside the station where she works. Nothing like being chief of police to keep from being arrested for stalking. It's good to be the chief.

Or maybe that's not so good, either. Not when you're trying to catch the three popular jock punks who gang-raped a sweet little high school girl. And not when you have a series of random serial murders bringing a media feeding frenzy down upon your bucolic bedroom community and your small, close-knit police squad. Especially when one of those murder victims is an ex-girlfriend, shot dead just after you've had some hot-and-heavy closure sex.

No, who could be happy with all of that going on? Luckily, you've got a couple of suspects in that serial-murder thing, a thrill-killing married couple who come off like the Mirror Universe version of Nick and Nora Charles. And you seem to be making some headway in your pathetic little dance of misery with that unsympathetic, manipulating Barbie Doll of an ex you're so stuck on. Between Rita, your shrink and your own common sense, you seem to be coming dangerously close to giving this vapid chick her long-overdue walking papers. But coming to grips with that takes time: Good thing you've got those married serial killers to keep you occupied, a whole other dance to distract you. And darned if they don't happen to be just cocky enough to make the fatal mistake of underestimating you. Whew, what a break.

Again, who could be happy with all of that going on? Definitely not the reader, who'll end up with a concussion after banging their head against the wall at Jesse's sheer thick-headedness. Thing is, there's a lot to like about Jesse Stone, even if he's terribly emblematic of Parker's tendency to paint his protagonists as tunnel-vision lunkheads with complicated and unhealthy romantic attachments. And there's a lot to like about Stone Cold, a diverting airplane read with a fairly compelling murder investigation and a heartwarming subplot with that darned cute little rape victim. But in the end, Parker scores a kind of negative hat trick, wrapping up an otherwise engaging read with a trio of incredibly unsatisfying endings. The murder investigation ends with a resounding, anticlimactic thud; ditto the aforementioned subplot. And as for Jesse's ongoing romantic turmoil? Well, let's just say that the wrap-up to that particular plot thread is a stone disappointment.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterwork
 4.0-4.9: Great read
 3.0-3.9: Well done
 2.0-2.9: Ordinary
 1.1-1.9: Sub par
 0.0-1.0: Horrendous

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