DEATH IN PARADISE (2001) by Robert B. Parker

The next year should be a good one for fans of Jesse Stone on screen and on the printed page as we are promised two brand new entries in these parallel series.

Jesse is a compelling character, built along traditionally heroic lines redolent of the Old West. Formerly a Homicide Detective in LA, when his wife cheated on him his drinking got worse until he had to resign in disgrace. But he has been given one last chance, as Chief of Police in the small (fictional) town of Paradise in north Massachusetts.

The following book vs movie review is offered as part of the Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog.

“It’s hard to live with the fact of your failure every day”

Jesse is more interested in justice than the law; but he is also a complex personality, dealing with his own demons and disappointments – at one time he was set for a career as a baseball player but had to give it up due to an injury; his married life ended in betrayal and yet he seems unable to disentangle himself completely from the bonds to his ex-wife Jenn, despite their divorce.

Death in Paradise (2001) was the third book in the series, and it remains one of my favourites. Its theme is the American dream and what people are prepared to do to attain it. Parker handles what might seem like an improbably large conceit for a seemingly unpretentious thriller with considerable aplomb, contrasting the hope and aspirations of a young athlete at the opening of the book with Jesse’s sense of what might have been if only his sporting career had not been ended by injury. The inclusion of a big-name Norman Mailer style author (here called ‘Norman Shaw’) also supports the literary feel of the book. There are two main plots to serve this larger structure: a murder mystery, involving a teenage girl who runs away from home after sleeping all over town and who is disowned by parents who now pretend she never existed, even after her body is recovered from the lake; and the story of the abuse metered out by a drunken husband on his wife and what happens when Jesse tries to do something about it.

This is an important book in the series, introducing such important characters as mobster Gino Fish, that very cool nun Sister Mary John and hard as nails ex-cop and now therapist Dr Dix, to whom Jesse turns in an effort to cope with his drinking problem. There is also a romantic entanglement with Lily Summers, the principal of the school the murder victim used to attend, though Jesse only seems to be able to truly love Jenn. And there are many sections devoted to the game of baseball. And throughout we get lots of Parker’s trademark deadpan comic dialogue between Jesse and his indispensable colleagues Molly (who probably should be running the town, let alone the police force) and Luther, a young cop eager to sit at his master’s feet and learn.

He felt as if he were retreating slowly, giving up one position after another, modifying as he went.

Parker completed nine Jesse Stone novels before his death, though the character also makes guest appearances in three other Parker novels featuring either Spenser or his other detective, Sunny Randall:

The Jesse Stone Mysteries

    1. Night Passage (1997) – review
    2. Trouble in Paradise (1998)
    3. Death in Paradise (2001)
    4. Back Story (2003, a cross-over Spenser novel)
    5. Stone Cold (2003)
    6. Sea Change ( 2006)
    7. Blue Screen (2006, a cross-over Sunny Randall novel)
    8. High Profile (2007)
    9. Spare Change (2007, a cross-over Sunny Randall novel)
    10. Stranger In Paradise (2008)
    11. Night and Day ( 2009)
    12. Split Image (2010)
    13. Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues (2011) by Michael Brandman
    14. Robert B. Parker’s Fool Me Twice (2012) by Michael Brandman
    15. Robert B. Parker’s Damned If You Do (2013) by Michael Brandman
    16. Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot (2014) by Reed Farrel Coleman
    17. Robert B. Parker’s The Devil Wins (2015) by Reed Farrel Coleman
    18. Robert B. Parker’s Debt to Pay (2016) by Reed Farrel Coleman
    19. Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet (forthcoming, 2017) by Reed Farrel Coleman

While I like the books, I have to admit that I do in fact prefer the TV adaptations starring, co-produced and latterly co-written by Tom Selleck. Admittedly, he is about 20 years older than his literary counterpart and the stories had to be compressed quite a lot to fit the 85 minute TV-Movie running time needed to fit a two-hour slot (including adverts). But Parker’s dialogue is largely intact as is the melancholy tone and the essential toughness in the depiction of Jesse himself. He is an alcoholic who is just managing to keep his addiction under control, and while resolutely honest he also gives very little away about himself, even with those closest to him. On television his ex-wife Jenn is never seen and only heard on the telephone (in the books she comes back into his new small-town life), which I think is a really good idea.

The adaptation of Death in Paradise is necessarily condensed and also makes some very interesting and successful modifications. In particular, the resolution of the murder plot is made more elaborate and the identity of the murderer altered, which I thought worked really well, even though it necessitated the removal of Gino Fish and his replacement with the somewhat similar-sounding, Leo Finn. In addition the subplot involving the wife-beater Jerry, while followed very closely, is added to greatly in a way that opens up the narrative and provides a cliff-hanger for the next film in the series. As always, the cast is superb, with Viola Davis in particular always stealing the show as Molly.

The TV-movies so far have been as follows:

  1. Stone Cold (2005)
  2. Jesse Stone: Night Passage (2006)
  3. Jesse Stone: Death In Paradise (2006)
  4. Jesse Stone: Sea Change (2007)
  5. Jesse Stone: Thin Ice (2009)
  6. Jesse Stone: No Remorse (2010)
  7. Jesse Stone: Innocents Lost (2011)
  8. Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt (2011)
  9. Jesse Stone: Lost in Paradise (2015)
  10. 10th Jesse Stone film (untitled, forthcoming 2018)

The Robert B. Parker homepage (www.robertbparker.net/) is still being updated and for a loving and heartfelt tribute to the man and his work, check out Jeff Pierce’s two-part article over at his ever wonderful blog The Rap Sheet.

Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise (2006)
Director: Robert Harmon
Producer: Tom Selleck, Steven J. Brandman
Screenplay: J.T. Allen, Michael Brandman, Tom Selleck
Cinematography: David Gribble
Production Design: David Chapman
Music: Jeff Beal
Cast: Tom Selleck (Jesse Stone), Viola Davis (Molly Crane), Kohl Sudduth (Luther ‘Suitcase’ Simpson), Kerri Smith (Sister Mary John), William Devane (Dr. Dix), Orla Brady (Lilly Summers), Gary Basaraba (Norman Shaw), John Diehl (Jerry Snyder), Debra Christofferson (Mrs. Snyder), Carolyn Fitzgibbons (Billie Bishop), Stephen McHattie (Captain Healy [not in the novel])

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

 

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14 Responses to DEATH IN PARADISE (2001) by Robert B. Parker

  1. Glad you enjoyed the book, Sergio. I honestly can’t comment on the show, as I haven’t (yet) seen it. But the book series is well-written, I think, and I like the way Stone’s character evolves over the course of it. I can see what you mean about having to condense the stories for TV, though; some of the plots are complicated.

  2. Paula Carr says:

    I haven’t read any of the books, but I was home sick a few years back, and found three of these movies in my cable TV’s OnDemand section. I quite enjoyed them. You are right about the tone — a bit elegiac.

  3. realthog says:

    I’ve seen several of the movies and am pacing myself with the books — I think I’ve read the first two, maybe just the first. Part of the reason for taking the books slowly is so that they’re not spoilt by memories of the movies. So far, I think I prefer the printed version.

    Pity Selleck’s such an NRA type in real life, isn’t it?

    • Well, I know what you mean about pacing yourself though the stopped using the books pretty quickly. Select seems to have mellowed and has been fairly anri-Trump, so that helps me enjoy them much more!

  4. tracybham says:

    We have watched most of the TV movies and enjoyed them all. (Except Glen refuses to watch Night Passage again because of the dog.) We plan to re-watch the others, and I want to read the books. Have you read any of the continuation novels?

  5. Colin says:

    I’ve not read any of the books but I like what I’ve seen (three or maybe four) of the TV movies a lot – one of the best roles Selleck has taken on, as far as I can see.
    Anyway, thoroughly enjoyed that piece, both for reminding me that still need to chase down a few of the TVMs and perhaps even more for the (to me at least) unexpected but very welcome news that the character will continue on screen – I thought it had been canned permanently.

    • Thanks for that Colin – the adaptations are fairly close, but at a certain point they just started writing their won and have never gone back. CBS decided it wasn’t going to make TV-Movies anymore, so Select made a deal to make two for Hallmark – the next would be the second of those. I always think of them as modern-day westerns, in the best possible sense and I do think that Selleck, along with Costner and maybe Duvall, is one of the few actors I can think of who is utterly convincing in that mode.

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