New Jesse Stone tale distinguished by wry wit

February 5, 2008 12:16:54 PM PST
"Stranger in Paradise" by Robert B. Parker: That Wilson Cromartie would dare return to the fictional town of Paradise, Mass., is surprising. But Cromartie has a bigger surprise in store. He waltzes right into Police Chief Jesse Stone's office and asks for help.

The Apache-born gun hand says he's been hired to track down a teenage runaway and return her to her father in Florida. He asks Jesse not to interfere.

Softhearted Jesse is all for rescuing runaways. So sure, he can do that.

But Jesse has unfinished business with Cromartie, aka Crow. The last time they saw each other, Jesse reminds him, Crow was fleeing the scene of a deadly shootout and robbery on Stiles Island ("Trouble in Paradise," 2000).

True, Crow says, but so what? He was just running away from flying bullets, as any sensible person would. Or at least that's all Jesse can prove. So the two men reach an agreement. Jesse will let Crow go about his business of finding the runaway. But if Jesse can connect Crow to the old armed robbery, he'll come gunning for him.

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that these two men on opposite sides of the law have a lot in common: Both are prone to violence; both have an old-fashioned, almost chivalrous attitude toward women; and both carry themselves with a quiet, Dirty Harry swagger.

"Crow," Jesse idly asks. "How many men have you killed?"

"It's bush to count," Crow says.

Exactly so. Jesse and Crow thoroughly understand each other.

It's not surprising, then, that they end up on the same side when Crow's search for the runaway takes some turns involving a Latino gang, the Italian mob and a lot of gunplay.

"Stranger in Paradise" is the seventh novel in Parker's series featuring Jesse Stone, and like the others, it is distinguished by wry wit, clever dialogue and muscular prose.

Jesse's slutty ex-wife, Jenn, meanwhile, is still making his life miserable. This time, in her job as a Boston TV reporter, she tries to sweet talk him into giving her inside information for a story on gang violence in Paradise.

Jesse still aches for Jenn; it's the main reason he drinks. But it would be best for him, and for the series, if she were to disappear. Its difficult for the reader to accept that strong, sensible Jesse remains such a sucker for such a hurtful and manipulative woman.