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Robert B. Parker's The Hangman's Sonnet: A Jesse Stone Novel


Robert B. Parker's The Hangman's Sonnet: A Jesse Stone Novel

One could make the argument that Reed Farrel Coleman has taken the reins of a thankless task by agreeing to continue Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series. If he hews too closely to Parker’s distinctive style, he runs the risk of being accused of not adding his own talents to the canon. Should he instead bring his own style to the characters and the story, he can find himself criticized for failing to respect the tradition of the series. THE HANGMAN’S SONNET, his newly published addition to the Stone legend, addresses the issue head on by choosing the latter path, thus providing readers with the best installment of the series to date.

There is a strong mystery at the heart of this book (make that mysteries), but the story is character-driven with Jesse Stone very much at the wheel. For the uninitiated, Jesse is a (barely) functioning alcoholic and the police chief of Paradise, Massachusetts. He is still recovering from the murder of his fiancee as THE HANGMAN’S SONNET opens, and is doing so by self-medicating with copious amounts of alcoholic beverages. Jesse is well aware he needs help; he simply doesn’t care. He is at the stage where everyone either knows he has a problem and is covering for him (his staff at the police department) or is looking for an excuse to fire him (the mayor).

"There is a strong mystery at the heart of this book (make that mysteries), but the story is character-driven with Jesse Stone very much at the wheel."

The tale opens with Jesse being confronted with a headache even bigger than his usual hangover. He is told that Paradise is going to be the site of the 75th birthday party being held in honor of Terry Jester, a legendary if reclusive folk singer. The event is hyped as being all but certain to include an “A”-list of celebrities, some of whom were rumored to have performed on an album of Jester’s titled The Hangman’s Sonnet. Legend has it that the tracks were recorded some four decades ago but went missing, and thus were never released, resulting in Jester leaving the music business and foregoing public appearances.

Jesse is advised of this event just as a home invasion on the other side of town results in what appears to be the unintentional death of the elderly woman who is the sole resident of the premises. The two men who carry out the burglary are intellectually mismatched, though not by much --- a “2” doesn’t pair up with a “10” --- but the dimmer light of the two is at least aware of his limitations. There is some question initially as to what exactly the somewhat hapless duo was after, but when an anonymous individual contacts Jester’s manager and offers him the long-lost tape to The Hangman’s Sonnet for a princely sum, it gradually becomes clear.

While readers know from the jump who killed the elderly woman, what is not known is the identity of the figure behind the curtain who is manipulating everyone from the mayor to Jester’s manager in an effort to get top dollar for the legendary recording. Jesse, semi-intoxicated or otherwise, is up to the challenge, and slowly begins to put things together with clues from the past and the present, primarily by weeding out what he thinks to be true from what he knows to be true. He is aided by individuals on both sides of the law, including a Boston private investigator who makes a cameo appearance and a couple of crime kingpins. While the conclusion may be somewhat bittersweet, it is also full of promise, which may resonate throughout future volumes of the series. Or not.

Part of the entertainment of THE HANGMAN’S SONNET is the real-world model upon which the story hangs its hat. Indeed, a rumor was spawned by a fictitious review in Rolling Stone of a non-existent supergroup album titled The Masked Marauders, which was later helped along by the actual release of a similar album by some hoaxters. It is a pitch-perfect vehicle in Coleman’s capable hands (though he is certainly much too young to have a firsthand recollection of those events). He also gets the grimly alcoholic Jesse Stone just right, so that one cannot help but root for better things for our protagonist as he literally rides off into the sunset in search of the same. Let’s hope he finds them.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 15, 2017

Robert B. Parker's The Hangman's Sonnet: A Jesse Stone Novel
by Reed Farrel Coleman

  • Publication Date: September 4, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 0425280268
  • ISBN-13: 9780425280263