It will come as no surprise to longtime fans of Robert B. Parker's
Spenser novels to learn that Parker just keeps getting better with
each new book. In addition to the classic Spenser series, the
prolific Parker now has two active mystery series: one involving
Paradise, Massachusetts police chief Jesse Stone and the other
featuring female Boston detective Sunny Randall.
Great writers --- and Parker long ago assured his place among
America's greatest mystery writers of all time --- are not afraid
of breaking the rules. Parker did that last fall when he had Jesse
Stone appear in one of his Sunny Randall books, BLUE SCREEN. And
Sunny returns the favor in Parker's latest novel, HIGH
HIGH PROFILE is a Jesse Stone story. It begins when a controversial
radio talk show host, Walton Weeks, is found dead, hanging from a
tree in Jesse's town of Paradise, Massachusetts. The victim was
shot three times, but it turns out that he was dead for two days
before being hung. The case becomes complicated when the body of a
young woman, who turns out to be Weeks's assistant, is discovered
in a dumpster behind a restaurant in Paradise a few days
Jesse is stuck with a high-profile case as the national press
descends upon the town along with representatives of the governor.
It turns out that the dead talker was a supporter of the
As if this was not pressure enough, Jesse's personal life is on the
brink of unraveling. He is trying to limit his drinking to two
drinks a day while dealing with his inability to stop loving Jenn,
his mercurial ex-wife still in his life, and make sense of his
emerging relationship with Sunny, who he calls "his new perfect
woman." But Sunny has problems of her own, namely her inability to
stop loving her ex-husband, Richie.
When Jenn arrives at his door in danger, Jesse has to protect her
around the clock somehow while still doing his job as police chief.
His not-too-perfect solution is to use Sunny, his new love, to
guard Jenn, his true love. As he says more than once, the situation
is "a f------ mess."
This also describes his homicide investigation. Despite the fact
that Weeks was famous and married three times, nobody shows up to
claim his body. And his associates are strangely calm about the
tragedy. Nor is anybody especially interested in or upset about the
death of Carey Longley, the assistant. Even the young girl's
parents profess not to care.
So Jesse starts doing what he does best: pulling at loose ends.
Despite the fact that the series is not even a decade old, we are
already delighted to hear Jesse bantering with the other colorful
members of his police department, including his right-hand
assistant and dispatcher, Molly, and the ever-eager-to-please young
cop, "Suitcase" Simpson.
But the more Jesse digs into the mystery of Weeks's life and death,
the more he is reminded of what is happening in his own life with
Jenn and Sunny. He thinks: "This is too close. Jesse could
hear himself breathing. This is too close."
HIGH PROFILE is a masterful novel in that it is not just a murder
mystery; it is the story of Jesse's internal struggle. He is
tortured by the knowledge that his feelings for his ex-wife will
always threaten his chances for happiness and peace. At another
point Jesse thinks: "Obsessions are fearsome."
Jesse knows that the line between good and evil, madness and
sanity, is sometimes perilously slim. "But if you weren't agnostic
about it, you could probably say that we love who we love whether
we should or not, even though there are more suitable people to
love," Jesse tells Weeks's doctor before admitting that he is not
talking about the murder victim.
HIGH PROFILE is Robert B. Parker writing at the height of his
powers. There is the usual brisk, witty dialogue, the prose cut
lean to the bone and the short chapters we have come to associate
with a Parker novel. If anything, the chapters and scenes seem even
shorter in this book. Parker is the master of writing concisely and
tightly; each of his books is a graduate course for fiction
But it is in creating these characters that Parker excels. Unlike
the always-in-control and heroic Spenser, Jesse and Sunny are both
highly damaged individuals courageous enough to face their damage
head on. You can't help but root for them. However, Parker is too
smart to go in for easy endings; real life is never that
At one point, Jesse, in typical male fashion, delights in
reminiscing to Sunny on the phone about their sexual liaison in
Sunny's book, BLUE SCREEN, last fall. "'Yes. Things change,' Sunny
said." And that is such a perfect line that you can almost hear the
bomb explode in Jesse's heart. Parker writes the way people
Great fiction mirrors reality. And Robert B. Parker will delight
even those who are not fans of the mystery genre. For those
unfamiliar with Parker's work, HIGH PROFILE is an excellent place
to start. You are in for a real treat and a wonderful journey
through his extensive collection of terrific work.
Reviewed by Tom Callahan on January 22, 2011