Parker is expert at creating the sense of place that I missed so much in the Leon book. Nostalgic as I was for the Boston area when I first picked up a Spenser book, I found myself transported to the places I knew. While I didn’t actually hang out with criminals and murderers, the people in the books rang true to me, close enough to the folks I knew. I owe Robert B. Parker a great debt for his having written the Spenser books, and had the opportunity to thank him at a signing at Mystery Loves Company in Baltimore some years ago. He put on a cowboy voice and said, “Just doin’ my job, ma’am.”
Blue Screen is not a Spenser book. In fact, it is the one where two of his new series detectives, Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone, meet. I’m not alone in admiring Parker for taking the risk of creating new characters. The Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone books don’t measure up to the early Spenser books, but they are okay. In fact, a friend of mine remarked that, although movies made from books are usually disappointing, the Jesse Stone made-for-television movies have actually increased her enjoyment of the books.
Parker always does a terrific job with sidekicks. Spenser’s dryly wise-cracking friend Hawk is one of the great characters of the genre. In this book, we get at least one satisfying scene with Sunny’s friend Spike; if you haven’t met up with him yet, you’re missing something. And her father-in-law. We don’t see so much of Jesse’s deputies, whose gradual development I’ve begun to relish.
Sunny is hired to protect Erin Flint, an action film star. Erin’s husband/producer has arranged for her to be in the starting lineup of the baseball club that he owns, a publicity stunt to advertise her upcoming film and also increase the value of the team. Sunny is to protect Erin—who compares herself to Jackie Robinson—from hotheads angry about a woman breaking major league baseball’s gender barrier.
The story twists and turns, revealing secrets that tear people’s lives apart. Unfortunately, though, the book tends to bog down occasionally in long conversations between people analysing their relationship. Listening to people talk about their relationship is immensely tedious, unless it is your own of course. Sometimes even then. Also tedious are conversations between a person and his or her shrink. I would rather see those insights expressed in action.
Not that the book is lacking in action. And the changes the various characters undergo are true to life, as emotions emerge from behind the bluster and reticence frays around the edges. The puzzle, too, is satisfyingly solved and order restored.