Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sea Change: Robert B. Parker

I’ve never read (or even heard of) Robert Parker before, so when I picked up Sea Change at the airport, my expectations were not particularly high. May be it was that, may be it was because I was on a long transcontinental flight, may be it was because I was reading crime fiction after quite a long time, but Sea Change was delightful – a simple straight narrative with banter and humor, and good old-fashioned police investigation. What more do you need to put together a racy readable piece of crime fiction?

Jesse Stone comes across as a realistic cop, complete with a secretary who gently flirts with him and a sidekick with a corny nickname (Suitcase Simpson). Straight-talking, Jesse does not take much to establish his authority smoothly and unashamedly.

“Okay Jess,” Perkins said and folded the paper and put it on the conference table.” You’re the chief.”

“Yes I am,” Jesse said.

And a no-nonsense approach.

“Just as long as we’re clear on whose case it is.”

“It belongs to all of us,” Healy said, “who love truth and justice.”

“Like hell,” Jesse said. “It belongs to me.”

An undercurrent of humor runs through Sea Change so well that the crimes come across as less gruesome and tragic than they actually are. And the small touches of philosophy come across as dryly humorous as well. It almost makes you wonder whether Parker is parodying crime fiction and police procedurals.

Jesse Stone is well characterized in Sea Change. His alcoholism and his problems with his marriage are clearly not part of the narrative of Sea Change, but considering he is a constant hero for Robert Parker, it is understandable that his personality goes beyond the requirements of the plot. It did sound a bit like Maj Sjöwall’s and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck. But only the merest hint of a resemblance. And the comparison ends there.

The biggest drawback in Sea Change is the villain, who, considering the nature of the crimes, came across as a little too glib and smooth. You would expect some more complexity in the character of a person who committed all those heinous crimes.

Sea Change is unlikely to find a front row seat in the pantheon of crime fiction or police procedurals, but for a light read on a transcontinental flight, you can do worse than pick this book up.

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