After creating one of the most famous detectives in modern crime
fiction, Spenser, over 30 years ago, Robert B. Parker branched out
about a decade ago and created two other mystery series. One series
featured a female Boston PI named Sunny Randall and the other a
small town Massachusetts police chief named Jesse Stone.
BLUE SCREEN is the fifth novel featuring Sunny Randall. Chief
Stone's fifth story, SEA CHANGE, came out earlier this year. But
even in a metropolitan area the size of Boston, one cannot help but
wonder what would happen if a few of Parker's creations came
together and started interacting with each other in one book.
We now know the answer. BLUE SCREEN is a fun, highly entertaining
novel. Parker is such a great writer that it is nearly impossible
to imagine one of his mysteries failing to deliver at this point.
BLUE SCREEN does not disappoint.
Sunny is hired by a young dot com millionaire turned film producer
and professional sports team owner, Buddy Bollen, to guard his
extremely temperamental leading lady and girlfriend, Erin Flint.
Erin is the heroine of the tremendously popular, if artistically
challenged, WOMAN WARRIOR adventure film series.
Besides being drop dead gorgeous, Erin is an athlete of sorts and
does all her own stunts in her films. But she is not just Buddy's
film franchise and main squeeze. Buddy is preparing to make Erin
the first female major league ballplayer by signing her to his
team. Buddy tells Sunny that Erin "looks like Willie Mays out
there." Erin's baseball career will also coincidentally help the
box office of her next movie, a biography of Babe Didrikson. But
since she will probably get the same negative reaction that Jackie
Robinson received, Erin needs Sunny to protect her.
Sunny and Erin don't exactly hit it off to hilarious results. Erin
immediately takes a dislike to Sunny's beloved miniature bull
terrier, Rosie, and tells Sunny "to put that dog somewhere." So
Sunny tells her rich and famous client: "Then go outside and sit in
But when Erin's personal assistant, Misty, is found murdered in the
gym at Buddy's mansion in the town of Paradise, Massachusetts,
Sunny's job switches from bodyguard to detective on the case. At
the murder scene, Sunny says:
"The gym was full of activity. Erin was there, and Buddy, and Randy
the black security guy, and most of Erin's entourage, and the
several Paradise cops, including the chief, who was wearing a
baseball jacket and jeans."
Sunny Randall, meet Jesse Stone.
Blue Screen is the term used to describe actors working before a
blue background, where all sorts of special effects magic and
computer-generated illusions are created.
The same thing happens in this novel. The more Sunny and Jesse dig
into the murder of Misty, the more the illusion of success in
Hollywood and America is exposed. There is much more going on
behind the scenes in the lives of Misty, Erin and Buddy than is
evident on the surface. And as the secrets come pouring out, the
darkness at the heart of the dream is revealed.
But in a completely different way, Sunny and Jesse are also dealing
with the blue screen of their own pasts. They are working on a
case, but there is a lot going on with them besides the case.
What has marked both of these series is the amount of care Parker
has taken in creating these flawed characters. They are both much
more vulnerable than the indestructible Spenser. Sunny has had to
deal with the aftermath of the dissolution of her marriage to
Ritchie, who she still loves, while Jesse has had to deal with his
divorce from Jenn, the woman he loves, and his subsequent battle
The brilliance of Parker is that he has created characters we care
about. It is fun spending time with Sunny and watching the
developing interaction between her and Jesse. And while Sunny, like
Spenser, always tells her tales in the first person, Jesse's
narratives have always been in the third person. So in this book we
still see Jesse that way but through Sunny's eyes.
And as with any Parker novel, the chapters are short and cinematic,
the dialogue crisp and the descriptions tough guy poetic.
For example: "The snowfall had increased. A single herring gull
drifted through the snow squall, circling down above the car,
hoping for a discarded french fry. It landed besides the car and
hopped around, cocking its head. It reminded me of Rosie, with its
expressionless black eyes and intensity. There were no french
fries, nor popcorn, nor orange peels, nor bread crumbs. After a
time, the gull flew into the falling snow."
In the end, BLUE SCREEN is not a conventional mystery. The emphasis
is less on "whodunit" than on the victims of the American drive for
success at all costs. And Parker has created a first in the annals
of crime fiction: a pimp with a heart of gold. The climax deals
less with retribution or justice than compassion. Jesse says to
Sunny: "I knew I was soft. I didn't realize you were, too."
But they are not soft. They are wonderful, complex, flesh and blood
characters. And one can't wait to see where Parker will take them
from here. BLUE SCREEN is the perfect novel to take to the beach,
read on an airplane or get lost in during a summer weekend. Reading
anything by Robert B. Parker is always a delight. BLUE SCREEN is no
Reviewed by Tom Callahan on December 22, 2010