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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Blue Screen

Reviewed: August 25, 2009
By: Robert B. Parker
Publisher: Berkley Books
320 pages, $13.50

Robert B. Parker’s Sunny Randall series got started when he was asked to pen a novel for a movie that might star Helen Hunt as the central character. The film never did get made, but the series is now six books along and doing nicely. Imagining Hunt in the lead role doesn’t hurt the reading at all.

In an interview Parker has said that this series gives him the opportunity to “write about things from the perspective of someone of great courage but limited physical strength”. His other lead characters, the private detective Spenser, and police chief Jesse Stone, are more than able to look after themselves physically. Sunny has to handle her role as a private eye differently.

In this fifth book in the series, Sunny has been hired by a C-list movie producer, one Buddy Bollen, to protect his chief asset, a stunning but not terribly talented actress named Erin Flint, star of several movies beginning with the words “Woman Warrior”. Buddy and Erin are branching out. Her next flick is to be about a woman breaking the gender bar and playing in a major league baseball team.

In fact, Buddy owns a baseball team, and Erin’s going to play for it as well. Erin seems to be convinced that some irate baseball fan is going to try to bump her off before that can happen. When there actually is a murder it seems as if her fears are justified. Though it’s not Erin who is killed, it’s her personal assistant, Misty.

Buddy immediately reassigns Sunny to find the killer and, since the murder happened within the precincts of Paradise, Mass., it naturally brings her into contact with Chief Jessie Stone.

Jessie is not the only crossover character is Mr. Parker’s world of mysteries. Several members of the supporting cast from Spenser’s series have already made appearances in both the Stone and Randall books. Apparently Sunny, who has a troubled on and off relationship with her ex-husband, started seeing a shrink in the book I missed. She had been seeing another one, but in that book she switched to Dr. Susan Silverman, Spenser’s long time significant other.

It’s interesting to see Susan through someone other than Spenser’s eyes, but she does serve a purpose in this book. Sunny needs advice about letting go, and needs to figure out what she wants to do with her love life. Richie has gone and remarried, and to make matters worse, he and the new missus are expecting a blessed event. Sunny knows this is clearly the end of any hope for reconciliation, and she doesn’t know how she feels about that.

She’s been playing the field, more or less, but meeting Jessie Stone causes an interesting reaction. They have a lot in common: similar tastes, similar senses of humour, similar curiosity, similar failed marriages. They’re both dancing around the question of starting something new.

Having them meet in Sunny’s series works best, probably, since her stories are written in the first person and Jesse’s books in the third.

Hmmm - I seem to have forgotten there was a mystery to be solved. That sometimes happens in Parker’s books. The Spenser novels are really about the triad of Spenser, Susan and Hawk. The Stone books focus more on Jessie, but he is, as Parker has said, a “work in progress”, damaged goods seeking healing. In a lot of ways Sunny is the same, only shorter and cuter.

As Sunny investigates she finds that Erin isn’t really Erin, nor was Misty really Misty. In fact they were sisters, Ethel and Edith Boverini, and in an earlier life they had been high class hookers for an LA pimp named Gerard Basgall. This fact, and the connection to some mob money behind Buddy’s movie empire, may have something to do with Misty’s death.

Or it may not.

There are lots of red herrings and plot twists in this story. Sometimes the mystery got in the way of the character development and sometimes it was the other way around All of which is a way of saying that there were two sets of cliffhangers to keep me turning pages as I flew from Toronto to Montreal a couple of weeks ago. It really did take my mind off the turbulence.

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