Sadly, Robert B parker died at the age of 77 just before the release of "Split Image." Fans may be partially consoled by the knowledge that there are at least one and possibly two Spensers and a Virgil Cole novel still in the publication pipeline, but this is surely the final chapter in the Jesse Stone series.
Stone is the Chief of the 12-officer police force of Paradise, Massachusetts. He arrived at this post following the failure of his two prior careers: his hopes in pro baseball were torpedoed by a shoulder injury; his position in the LAPD Robbery Homicide Division was washed away by alcohol following the collapse of his marriage. He is still haunted by his ex-wife and he occasionally still succumbs to drink. Mainly, though, he is a very good chief. He combines confident authority with human wisdom and a detective's sixth sense.
In "Split Image," Stone faces two cases. The first involves two Boston mob bosses who have "retired" to Paradise. They are married to identical twins and live in identical houses. One of the mobsters and one of the other's bodyguards are murdered and it appears that the sisters have something to do with it. In the second case, Stone helps Boston P.I., Sunny Randall - herself one of Parker's series heroes- investigate the leaving of home of the teenage daughter of a self-important Boston family who appears to have joined a cult. Neither plot is especially strong - stock items lifted out of Parker's repertory trunk - but by now we read Parker more for the dialogue and interplay of characters than for suspense.
"Split Image" includes a virtually valedictory round-up of Parker's characters: all the usual folks from Paradise, plus Sunny Randall, Spike, Rita Fiore, Captain Healey and Susan Silverman from the other series. We are missing Spenser, of course, but Dr Dix sounds rather like him, possibly he is the old dog in disguise.
For most of Parker's career, a large part of the dialogue circles around defining "The Detective" and his code. In this book, there is a greater focus on defining the "happy person," or the "complete person." Both Stone and Sunny achieve breakthroughs in their analysis is this book, and their relationship has become much more serious. Completion at last.
I started reading Robert B Parker when my high school English master handed me a copy of "The Godwulf Manuscript " and said, "Read this. It doesn't matter that it is a crime novel, it is good writing." Parker and Spenser in particular have been part of my life ever since. "Split Image " is far from Parker's best work but, under the circumstances, I think that fellow devotees will understand why I gave it five stars.
P.S. If you have not seen the made for TV movies of Jesse Stone starring Tom Selleck, order the DVDs now. Parker remarked that Selleck, alone of all the actors playing his creations, gets the character just right.