Night And Day starts with odd sorts of crimes in Paradise; Jesse Stone is called out to deal with parents complaining about a a female school principal who’s examined her girls’ underwear before a school dance. This abuse bothers him. So does the fact that there are reports of a peeper in Paradise, and he’s soon graduated to becoming ‘The Night Hawk,’ making home invasions and taking pictures of housewives naked. While investigating, Jesse discovers that sleepy little Paradise also harbours its own swingers club, which, despite his evident appeal to women of all varieties, Jesse doesn’t feel tempted to join. Even though his ex-wife Jenn, after appearing to draw closer to Jesse, is all of a sudden offered her big break in New York, and just has to take it, and the producer who comes with it.
Sex makes problems for everyone, except Parker, who’s a master of double-entendre dialogue, but not all his characters come equipped, like Jesse, with a drink, a shrink, and quip that makes you think. There are two stories here; the first is the criminal one, in which Jesse is most worried about children (and wives) being abused. The principal’s actions are a reflection of a deeper problem, with her law-firm heading husband, while one of the girls most bothered by her actions is actually being harmed far more by her parents’ swinging. Jesse will work these problems out, and suggest appropriate psychological help, as usual, while tracking down the Night Hawk, which proves surprisingly easy to do, even as his antics escalate in seriousness.
But the other story is Jesse’s. It’s odd that Parker’s best scenes involve Jesse and Jenn; the shallow, totally self-centered, and fearful Jenn is revealed in just a few lines. In fact, her best scene is a message left on Jesse’s answer machine, which is something I commented on being an effective metaphor when I reviewed ‘Stone Cold’ the first of the Tom Selleck Stone adaptations, back in Crime Time 49. Parker’s Jenn is so fingers-across-the-blackboard bad it’s always been hard to figure out exactly what Jesse continues to see in her, which I’m sure his shrink has been wondering for years as he rolls his eyes at the ceiling behind Jesse’s back. Also difficult is trying to avoid visualing a Jesse who begins to seem more and more like the wisecracking Tom Selleck who plays him in the movies, and less like the more introverted guy who arrived in Paradise from LA (and isn’t that an ironic formulation?). Faced with the finality of another Jenn dilemma, Jesse revisits some of his favorite old flames, retreats to the bottle, talks to his poster of Ozzie Smith, who seems better than a shrink, and finally turns to Sunny Randall, meaning the ultimate conflicted couple hook up again. And not before time!
The problem with the parallels here is that they are all made so obviously. Jesse and his shrink Dix (make of that name what you Freudians will!) play psychological ping pong so deftly that any subtle points are immediately hammered home and generally reinforced with a joke. I shudder to think what happens when Spenser and Jesse settle down for a chat some day, and I hope Susan and Dix get to make up the foursome. Jesse’s powers of observation also seem to be waning. A woman who while still in high school had a daughter who’s now 13 can’t be ‘about 40’, unless she stayed back a whole lot of years in grammar school. But that would make her as thick as Jenn.
Still, it’s hard to hate a novel where the creepiest characters are a big-shot lawyer, an academic,
and an overgrown preppie husband, rather than the sex criminal himself. It’s like night and day, when you think about it.
Night And Day
Robert B Parker
Quercus £16.99 ISBN 9781849160506