Damned if You Do

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Damned If You DoWritten by Michael Brandman — The late Robert B Parker will always be remembered for Spenser, the Boston PI who polled at number six in our best 12 private eyes feature. That character was kept alive by Ace Atkins in the novel Wonderland and now Jesse Stone, another of Parker’s creation, has been revived by Michael Brandman.

Stone arrived later in Parker’s career – with the 1997 novel Night Passage – and was envisioned as a more damaged character than Spenser. A promising career in professional sports was ended by a knee injury and later on Stone was sacked from his job as a Los Angeles Homicide detective for alcoholism. He only landed the role of sheriff in the sleepy town of Paradise, Massachusetts because the corrupt town council figured him for a patsy.

Over the course of nine novels, ending in 2010’s Split Image, Stone grew into a well-liked and respected law man. The character’s popularity was also given a boost by a series of TV film adaptations starring Tom Selleck, and several of them were written and produced by Michael Brandman.

Damned if You Do starts, like many good crime books, with a corpse. A Jane Doe has been discovered in a seedy hotel room. Barely out of her teens, it’s presumed she was selling herself and was murdered by a john. The hotel owner will admit to that and no more. He doesn’t know her name, where she’s from, who her pimp is or who the customer was. The state police have no leads and if it weren’t for the nagging suspicion that Stone has seen the victim before, his conscience might allow him to write the case off as others are advising him to do.

Instead, he reaches out to his contacts in the Boston underworld to discover the girl may have been caught up in a power struggle between two pimps – one who manages his stable with an old fashioned mixture of seduction and violence, and another who claims his digital world of online sex for sale is the future.

Running alongside this investigation Stone has an off-the-books project going. An elderly friend has run away from a care home, and in the process of returning him Stone senses something is not right. The patient seems scared, and the staff are evasive and hostile with him. An online search into the company’s past suggests the possibility of endemic neglect – or worse – with reports of confused and aggressive patients being restrained and sedated. The company has managed to stay in business though, with hard evidence always proving elusive thanks to a powerful legal team and a confused and vulnerable clientele.

The way Brandman uses the book to explore current issues like nursing home scandals, and the way the recent financial collapse has forced a hotel owner  to allow prostitution in his rooms. However, the book is very short. It can comfortably be read in a couple of hours, and this is despite the two different cases. Both are simply too slight, and lack the moral complexity that makes for a riveting read. Stone is faced with wrongdoing and so fixes it.

The mysteries themselves are rather straightforward – you will probably be able to see the outcome of both coming a mile away. Basically, this book is perfectly fine but not a standout. No Exit Press has the complete Stone backlist and I would recommend those new to him begin with Night Passage. If you curious to find out more about what happens to the character post Parker’s death, you might be better to hold out for Reed Farrel Coleman’s entry in the series, Blind Spot, due in paperback next year.

No Exit Press

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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