On Being 1/3 of Robert B. Parker
It was early May 2013 and the day before I was to leave for St. Louis to do my annual Suspense Night gig at the St. Louis County Library. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon and I was relaxing after having packed for my trip. My agent’s phone number flashed across my TV screen. The conversation that followed went something like this:
“Hey, David (David Hale Smith of Inkwell Management), what’s up? Something wrong?”
“Reed, I think you need to sit down.”
“As a matter of fact, I’m laying down, watching TV.”
“Why, David, what’s wrong?”
“Are you sure you’re not standing?”
“David, if you don’t tell me what’s going on, I’m gonna shoot you.”
“How would you like to be Robert B. Parker?”
The rest, as they say, is history. Or it soon will be. On September 9th, two days from now, Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot, a Jesse Stone novel by Reed Farrel Coleman will be on book shelves and available through your favorite e-tailer. These last sixteen months have been quite an interesting journey. Most of it has been wonderful, but many aspects of it have been frustrating as well. That’s pretty much how everything in life goes, right? There always seems to be this odd balance in life and this experience has sure borne that out.
First, I got the call from my agent about a week after I finished The Hollow Girl, the final novel in my Moe Prager Mystery series. What, I sometimes wonder, would have happened had they offered me this gig before I had completed the Moe series? When I asked my new editor at Putnam if she was aware that I was wrapping up the Moe series, she said she had no clue. I figured that I got the gig not only based upon my writing ability, but also on the essay I wrote for the book In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero, edited by Otto Penzler. My essay? “Go East Young Man: Robert B. Parker, Jesse Stone, and Spenser.” Yet again, I was wrong. My editor only read the essay after I was hired.
One of my great frustrations was that I wasn’t permitted to make this deal public for eleven months. Yes, I could tell my family, but for the most part I operated under the threat of losing the deal if it became public knowledge. Only I needed to be able to tell some colleagues in order to seek their advice and to access their expertise on Jesse Stone and Mr. Parker. At points during the writing of Blind Spot, I felt more like an undercover operative than an author. It really came to a head at Bouchercon Albany when I was sitting in on a panel about the future of PI fiction and the moderator, Ali Karim, asked me my opinion on the phenomenon of writers taking over series made famous by now deceased authors. You can imagine that I was biting the insides of my cheeks pretty hard when I said, “I guess it depends on the writers involved and the series.”
For the most part, though, it’s been great and all the little frustrations worth it. It is a total honor to have been chosen to follow in Robert B. Parker’s footsteps and to continue one of the great series in crime fiction history. Jesse Stone is that rarest of commodities: a perfectly flawed protagonist. There are many flawed protagonists. There are some perfect protagonists. But very few are perfectly flawed. What do I mean? If you know the series, you know what I mean. If Blind Spot is your first Jesse Stone novel, you’ll get it right away. If you have read any of my own work, you know I have a real weak spot for strong, yet vulnerable protagonists. But Jesse and Moe are very different creatures. Moe wore his heart on his sleeve. The only thing Jesse wears on his sleeve is his Paradise Police Department patch. While I haven’t tried to do a direct imitation of Mr. Parker’s style, I have tried to be true to his characters. I think of it this way: I use the same camera as Mr. Parker did, but I've changed lenses.
I do wonder how the book will be received by critics and longtime fans of the series. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.