Jesse Stone is an interesting character for those of us who have followed Robert B Parker since his first books. In some ways, Jesse's hard drinking of whiskey and bed-hopping is very similar to Spenser's early days. In other ways, Jesse's style is a duplicate of modern Spenser. You hear the exact same vocabulary describing situations, the type of characters around him is pretty much the same, his sensibilities, history and focus in life is very similar.
For a tiny town in coastal Massachusetts that has rarely seen murders until Jesse appeared, he appears to have the Curse of the Ages. Every year there are serial murders, bodies dropping dead left and right, in very bizarre circumstances. They've barely recovered from last year when they find both a man hung from a tree and a pregnant woman lying in a dumpster. Poor Jesse is just getting the basics set on these when his ex-wife Jenn calls - she's been raped, and she wants Jesse at her side 24x7.
In a typical Parker twist which seems a little farfetched, Jesse immediately thinks that the best way to manage his life is to call on his current girlfriend, Sunny, who he's in love with, to watch over and take care of his ex-wife. That sets us up for many scenes of Sunny telling Jenn about Jesse, Jenn telling Sunny about her feelings, Sunny telling Jesse what Jenn thinks about Jesse, and many other permutations. In the meantime, they do a little detecting, the State Police wave every once in a while, the Governor makes a few feeble threats, and they figure out who does what in which room with which weapon.
It's intriguing that my boyfriend feels Jesse is pretty much a Spenser clone. Again, the use of pretty much the exact same terms and words, the same responses to situations and the same general range of interests makes them brothers, if not clones. On the other hand, I do appreciate the ways in which Parker tries to differentiate them a bit. Spenser was stubbornly loyal, good at fighting but dispassionate, and a medium drinker. Jesse is stubbornly loyal, good at fighting and with a dark streak, and a heavy drinker. Where Spenser would find a way to disarm an opponent or defuse the situation, Jesse plugs the guy several times in the chest. Spenser hears of a situation and finds way to prepare for trouble. Jesse reacts viscerally with surging adrenaline, preparing for instant action.
In many ways this book reminded me strongly of Walking Shadow, a book with certain characters I hated. I tried not to let that influence me too much in this one, but just as I hated the ending of Walking Shadow, I really hated the ending here. It's hard to talk about it without giving away a section of the book's plot. Let's just say there are numerous parts of the ending that I hated, for different reasons. A big part of what I dislike is the underlying message of "real love is innately an obsession - you stay even if your mind knows it's wrong". So this means that women beaten by their husbands should stay? Love is NOT about obsession. Love is when feelings *and* rational thought are together saying the same thing. If your mind is telling you this is wrong and unhealthy - and you stay anyway - that's not love. I'm sure with psychotherapists lurking in every corner of these books, that someone would explain clearly what that amounts to.
So where does this leave me? Parker explicitly set Jesse up to be a much more flawed character than Spenser, perhaps to ward off complaints by some that Spenser had turned into a veritable saint. I'm all for flawed characters. Heck, Jesse drinks heavily, has flashes of rage, has unresolved issues. He makes poor decisions in life. Really, this addresses the complaints rather nicely. So what are my issues? That he's too flawed? That he's flawed in ways that I don't enjoy reading about? That he'd be better as a nearly-perfect Spenser clone with only some odd problems? I know Jesse's flaws do frustrate me. But I also accept that it's nice to have non-Hollywood endings and an imperfect world. I think my main issue is that his flaw involves "stay with a harmful person even when you know it's harmful, because you call the obsession 'love'". That bugs me a great deal.
Still, I love the world of Massachusetts that these stories are set in. I love the diversity of characters that Jesse runs into, the large soap opera style world full of people we know, understand and have a full history of. I like that there are bright, capable women shown in many aspects of life, mixed right in with the insipid, shallow ones. I'll certainly keep reading all of the series to see what goes on with the world.
I guess I have to say that by the end of this specific story, through, I'd lost some respect for Jesse. As much as this is a fictional story, Jesse ends up being a role model for many people, and the stories affect how people think about life and love. I really don't like the message it's sending right now.