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Filled with tawdry sexual shenanigans, bestseller Parker's fifth Jesse Stone novel (after 2003's Stone Cold) finds the former L.A. cop, now the police chief of Paradise, Mass., tentatively reunited with his ex-wife, Jenn, and approaching a year since his last drink. The murder of a woman aboard a sailboat leads Stone into a world of wealth and depravity centered on a couple of yacht owners from Florida and their crowd. Drugs, pornography, rape and underage sex provide a degrading framework for the murder investigation. Stone gets a valuable assist from Kelly Cruz, a Fort Lauderdale cop, as he traces the backgrounds of victims and suspects. The laconic Stone with his uncertain relationship with Jenn, his struggle with alcohol and his visits to a therapist presents a striking contrast to Parker's primary hero, Spenser. But much of the dialogue is interchangeable: witty, flirtatious, droll and sexually charged. The outcome manages to be both surprising and depressing. Stone is a work in progress whose following is likely to increase as he continues to grow.
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The body of an unidentified woman is found in a cove off the village of Paradise, Massachusetts, during the annual Race Week for sailing vessels. This is a particularly bad time for an unidentified body to surface, since the tiny populace is swollen with thousands of boat enthusiasts. Former LAPD cop and current Paradise police chief Jesse Stone, appearing in the Stone series' fifth entry, begins his investigation by inquiring if any boat-rental agencies have any boats missing. One rental owner comes forward, providing a driver's license of a Florida woman who never brought her boat back. After this promising lead, the case morphs from forensic identification into a disturbing morality play, as Stone digs deeper and deeper into the victim's past. This is a case that would intrigue Stone's private-eye counterpart, Spenser (who appears in a tantalizing cameo here). Parker is dead-on here when it comes to police procedure and plotting, as the seemingly simple case eddies into all kinds of ugly complications, and the story swirls from whodunit into an absorbing whydunit. On the down side, Parker's signature smart-ass dialogue is beginning to sound stale, even weak; why must all his characters talk in the same tough-guy way, heavy on the sexual innuendo? Similarly tired is the cutesy relationship between Stone and his ex-wife (punctuated by other women throwing themselves at him), which draws heavily on Spenser's relationship with Susan Silverman. Shortcomings aside, though, Parker's setting and plotting are enough to make most readers forgive the unrelenting Guy Noir style. Connie Fletcher
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