When you think of a troubled police officer character, Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series comes to mind. Recently, I saw an article where the writer was warning against writing about an alcoholic detective. The writer said that the trope was being overused. And one reason that the character is so popular is because of how well Robert B. Parker used it in Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone.
Many of our best detective fiction writers point to Robert B. Parker as a major influence on how and what they write. Parker first became
Robert B. Parker’s Night Passage
popular with his Spencer series. But it was his later Jesse Stone series that showed us how deep and multi-layered a troubled officer could become.
The Character: Jesse Stone
Parker introduced us to Jesse Stone in his novel, Night Passage, that was published in 1997. In the novels, Stone had grown up dreaming of becoming a baseball shortstop, but the dream died when he injured the shoulder in his throwing arm.
Instead, he became a homicide detective for the Los Angeles Police Department. After his wife, Jennifer, filed for divorce, he became an alcoholic and his life spun out of control. He traveled across America to Paradise, Massachusetts to start a new life, and applied for their position as Chief of Police. Knowing he had no shot at getting the job, he showed up drunk. Which made him exactly the type of officer the corrupt president of the town council was hunting for.
But wouldn’t you know, Stone decided to take this chance to clean up his life. Poor town council president.
Stone faced many challenges in the series. Unlike Spencer, who didn’t seemed phased by what happened around him, Stone was constantly evolving. The other officers in the department came to respect him and he developed a good relationship with the State Police Homicide Commander, Captain Healy.
The Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series began when Parker was looking for a change from writing his Spencer series. He had written nearly 40 novels in the series about the Boston private eye. Parker wrote the series in first person, with a very blunt, Hemingwayesque style. Spencer was very well read, with a loyal group of friends around him. It’s very possible that Parker tried to emulate Raymond Chandler in his style of writing.
When comparing Spencer (The character had no first name because Parker didn’t want to hurt one of his sons) and Jesse Stone, Parker said, “Jesse is a much more damaged individual who is coming to terms with himself as he goes.”
The series began in 1997 and Parker continued writing it until his death from a sudden heart attack in 2010. He wrote nine of Stone’s novels. The series continues today with the last book, Robert B. Parker’s Stone’s Throw by Mike Lupica, published September 7, 2021
The Writer: Robert B. Parker
Robert Brown Parker was born on September 17, 1932 in Springfield, Mass. He enlisted in the Army and served as an infantryman in Korea. After tiring of working in advertising and technical writing, he decided to go into academia. He got his PhD in English literature from Boston University in 1971. He titled his dissertation “The Violent Hero, Wilderness Heritage and Urban Reality.” In it, he discussed the adventures of fictional private eyes created by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross MacDonald. (Sounds like his future was set.)
In 1976, he became a full professor and turned to writing fulltime in 1979 after publishing five of his Spencer books.
In 1985, his Spencer series was made into a television series called Spencer for Hire and starred Robert Urich in the title role. And in 2005, CBS started a series of TV movies with Jesse Stone: Stone Cold, starring Tom Selleck. CBS did eight total before Hallmark did a ninth, Lost in Paradise, in 2015.
If you need a case model of how to create a character that resonates with your reader, just pick up a Jesse Stone novel and enjoy the ride.
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