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SPLIT IMAGE by Robert B. Parker: Book Review

The recent death of Robert B. Parker came as a shock to mystery lovers everywhere. I’ve been a fan of Parker’s since The Godwulf Manuscript and have read each Spenser novel as soon as it was published, although I strongly believe that Parker’s first dozen books were his best.

I’ve not been so enamored of the Jesse Stone or Sunny Randall novels, although I have read several in each series.  Split Image reinforces my belief that Stone is a faint copy of  the “later” Spenser. The too-cute sexual repartee between Spenser and Susan Silverman is identical to that of Stone and whomever he’s bedding.  In addition, there’s always some soft-core verbal sexual talk between Stone and Molly Crane, the sole woman in the Paradise P.D.  In Split Image, Stone, the police chief of the afore-mentioned town, and Sunny Randall, a former Boston detective and current private investigator, try to comfort themselves by hopping into bed.   Again.

Parker portrays each of them as trying to get over their former spouses, and he does a credible job combining Stone’s efforts at moving on with his life while trying to solve two murders that involve beautiful twin sisters, each one married to a crime boss.  What’s so upsetting to Stone, and what nearly derails him, is the question how come these guys (read:  undeserving) got such beautiful, devoted wives while I (read:  deserving) got stuck with a woman who felt being rich and famous was more important than being married to me.  It takes Stone a few sessions with his psychologist and a few talks with Sunny to work out his feelings.   I wanted to say to Stone:  get over yourself, it’s not about you, it’s about solving the crimes in your town.

While Stone is dealing with his psyche, two murders take place in Paradise.  (Not so aptly named, perhaps?  It’s hard to resist taking shots at a town with a name like that.)   There’s too much angst and not enough mystery in Split Image.  In fact, there’s not much mystery at all.  The book, with its wide margins and mini-chapters, is 277 pages, but it probably could have been reformatted to 200.

In the Spenser novels, food plays a big part; in the Stone novels, it’s alcohol.  Although Stone tries to deal with his drinking with various degrees of success, the problem is always with him.  He denies he’s an alcoholic, but as he says here, he drinks when he’s happy and he drinks when he’s sad. If that’s not a good definition of an alcoholic, I’d like to know a better one.

Split Image is not a bad book, it’s just a book that feels like a retread. The mob bosses from Boston, the sexy women who find Stone irresistible, the sly sex talk–we’ve heard it all before.  I borrowed this book from a close friend.  He’s a very knowledgeable reader of mysteries and had given up reading Parker years ago, making fun of me for continuing.  However, on hearing of Parker’s death, he bought Split Image as a sort of homage to the late author.  It was a worthy thought, and I wish it had been for a better book.

You can also find out more about Robert B. Parker at his web site.