Split Image (Jesse Stone, No. 9)
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87 of 91 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2010
So let's deal with the elephant in the room right away: how does one review a book when the author unexpectedly dies while it's being read?

The death of Dr. Parker was a shock to the genre community, to be sure. Eulogies steeped in eloquence can be found with just a few clicks. The eloquence is deserved, Parker saved the PI genre. That is not debatable. So we will leave those eulogies for you to find (we recommend the one from the NY Times), and say, going forward, this review takes that sad fact into account not one bit.

Split Image is more accurately described as a Jesse Stone/Sunny Randall Novel, both characters are present, together and apart.

Our story begins as Sunny visits Jesse for professional consult. She's been hired to look into an "eccentric" religious organization based in Paradise known as The Renewal. Her clients are parents whose daughter has moved into their house in Paradise. Sunny isn't quite sure if her clients are worried about their daughter or their reputation, and she starts her investigation by getting a briefing from the Paradise Police Chief, with whom she has an interesting romantic relationship. This briefing is filled with the banter that Parker is most famous for, and we immediately feel at home with these two. We like the fact that they are each others' refuge from bad situations in their own lives--Jesse's, the near-constant disappointment brought by his ex-wife, Jenn; Sunny, the irresolvable distance between her and her ex-husband, Richie.

During their chat, a body is discovered in Paradise, that of Mob Enforcer Petrov Ognowski. Jesse leaves Sunny to her business, and start digging. He finds that Petrov was a soldier for Reggie Galen, who lives in a very fashionable house, next door to a nearly-identical house where resides Knocko Moynihan, another "colorful" fella. He then finds out that both gentlemen are married to....wait for it....IDENTICAL TWINS. Rebecca and Robbie, the Bang Bang Twins.

Let your minds get busy, because Parker clearly did the same thing. Two women, growing up separate but the same. Dressing with the same clothes. Making every effort to be indistinguishable. Sleeping with each others' boyfriends, etc.

Parker has big fun exploring the psychosis of all this, from Jesse interviewing the parents, to being a temporary object of the twins' affection during an interview.

Sunny works her way through The Renewal, and her first impression is fairly benign. A little kooky, but her client's daughter seems both happy and healthy. She reports this to her clients, then learns the daughter has disappeared from The Renewal residence. Vetting the usual suspects, Sunny moves her focus back to the cult, and things get pretty interesting at that point. Along the way, Parker shares Sunny's therapy session with Boston's Greatest Shrink, Susan Silverman. We always enjoy these interludes, as they provide a strictly empirical look at Susan, something we definitely don't get from the Spenser books. As she pokes into The Renewal, it will surprise no one that things aren't as benign as she once thought.

Don't wait too long for these two cases to intersect, because they don't. They simply give us the joy of watching Jesse and Sunny, together and apart, do what they do and then ruminate on it. Sound familiar? It should.

And that's the key to why Parker's books are so effective. He lets his characters tell the story. He puts them on the path, and then more or less gets out of the way.

Split Image moves the stories of both Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall, together and apart, forward. Parker weaves in the great supporting cast in Paradise, primarily Molly Crane and Suitcase Simpson, with his usual skill.

Basically, it's a story of what happens when a childhood psychosis is untreated, perhaps encouraged, and manifests itself in adult behavior. Parker excels at this kind of superficial examination (we're not interested in clinical, are we?) to tell his story, and it's the main strength of Split Image.
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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
"He also split the rock, and the waters gushed out." -- Isaiah 48:21

I held off starting this book until I had absorbed and become accustomed to the news of Robert B. Parker's passing. Rather than anticipating that there would be dozens more Parker novels coming soon, I realized that the time had come to more carefully examine and consider the last few novels in the editorial pipeline.

Split Image was a pleasant surprise for me in several dimensions. Although the cover refers to this as a Jesse Stone novel, there's quite a lot of Sunny Randall in the book, too, as she pursues a private investigation in Paradise, that well-known home and haunt for mobbed-up crooks and moral-appearing bad guys. Their interactions are rich in this series, and Split Image is one of the best books for bringing out the foundations for the mutual attractions and hurdles.

In addition, Mr. Parker has handled a sexually tinged story with much more deftness than he usually did in the past. Sometimes his novels seem to be more like exercises in voyeurism concerning the vulgar than they are stories about human sexuality in all of its dimensions.

To me the best police procedural and crime novels start with an unusual premise . . . and then play out in unexpected ways. Here the premise is one that I would never have come up with in a million years: Two mobsters who don't care that much for one another marry twins and live next door to one another in (where else?) Paradise.

In many police procedurals, you know exactly what to expect from the beginning. Mr. Parker rewards us with a plot that has more surprises to keep things interesting than we have any right to expect. I liked that.

In some of Mr. Parker's novels from recent years, the psychological element is so large in the book that you might feel like you are in a therapy session yourself rather than reading about crime, criminals, and the idealists (Don Quixote's in disguise) Mr. Parker likes to set after those who need punishment. In Split Image, that element adds to the story and doesn't weigh too heavily.

How would I characterize this story? Everything works together in a nice balance. If I hadn't read the book, I would have been skeptical that there was still a novel to be written about Jesse Stone that would be this satisfying.

Bravo, Mr. Parker! I'm sorry you aren't here to read this praise. I'm going to miss your amazing dialogue and your ability to craft unusual stories such as this one that leave me hungry for more.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 27, 2010
We'll never know how Robert B. Parker intended to carry through in the continuing development of the Jesse Stone-Sunny Randall relationship, but at least we have this novel which, at the very least, holds out the promise they each can address their psychological roadblocks: Jesse's lingering love for his ex-wife and Sonny's prolonged infatuation with her former husband.

But more important, Parker wrote another fine mystery novel in his inimitable style. It is a pretty racy subject, involving a couple of murders and how two sex-crazy women, twins married to two gangsters, are involved. At the same time, Sonny takes on a cult to try to rescue a young woman.

Written with the same aplomb and pithy dialogue as all Parker novels, "Split Image" is at the same time amusing and full of surprises. Parker, of course, died recently, but he left behind some new books to be enjoyed, as well as a legacy of more than 50 novels, of which this is of equal quality, and highly recommended.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2010
There always has been something very satisfying about finishing a new Robert B. Parker novel, all of which are so complete and satisfying. But alas, there is a sadness that accompanies the last page of SPLIT IMAGE, the first book released since his death in January. Indeed, while I am sure it was not done intentionally, the novel reads like a valediction for the two non-Spenser protagonists created in the 1990s: Jesse Stone, the chief of police for a small Massachusetts town, and Sunny Randall, the female private eye from Boston.

SPLIT IMAGE is also one of those titles that perfectly reflects what the book is about. Years ago, the late, great mystery author Ed McBain told me that he always tried to get titles that worked on multiple levels. So, for instance, ICE could be something you fall on in the winter, but it could also be slang for stolen diamonds or killing somebody. In SPLIT IMAGE, Jesse and Sunny, who had a brief affair in Beverly Hills many years ago, find themselves involved in two perplexing but unrelated cases in Paradise. Jesse's case starts when a soldier for a retired mobster is bumped off, and he soon finds that the mobster just happens to live next door to another mobster, one who is not so retired. They are not rivals as far as anybody knows. As a matter of fact, they are both married to sisters who are identical twins, hence a "split image."

Meanwhile, Sunny has been hired by the parents of a young woman who has run off to join a quasi-religious group in a town called "The Renewal." The group seems harmless enough, but they just might have a split image of their own --- and it could be far more sinister. Sunny is stifled when the young woman is apparently willing and happy to stay with the group while her parents are considerably shady and ready to break the law.

The genius of Robert B. Parker is that he was far more than a mystery writer. These books work on different levels. Indeed, as another great mystery writer, Lawrence Block, pointed out to me, Parker was writing romance rather than realism. The Stone and Randall books are not police procedurals or "whodunits" in the traditional sense. They are about deeply flawed protagonists searching for something greater than their lives and incapable of being anything other than knights-errant.

Chief Stone is a functioning alcoholic; he says in this book, "I made chief because the selectman at the time wanted a drunk they could control." And his problem with alcohol in the series stems from the torch he has carried for his ex-wife, Jenn. Unlike earlier books, Jenn does not make an appearance here. But when Jesse interviews the mobsters and meets their loving, attentive identical wives, he goes on a bender and ends up "passed out from strong drink." His faithful aid, Molly, covers up for him.

Sunny has had problems of her own in the past with her love for ex-husband Richie, who is now remarried and has a child. Sunny is far more in control than Jesse when she comes to him for help with her case. In fact, she goes around using the name "Stone" as an alias in her undercover work, perhaps trying it on for size like a young girl in love might do. She tells Jesse, "I think more highly of you than you think of yourself."

Again with the split image reference, Parker shows us two characters who are the split image of one another, circling carefully around, nursing their past wounds and looking for a possible new start. And as with the Spenser novels, there are multiple visits to the psychologist's and therapist's office in this book, with Sunny's shrink being none other than the love of Spenser's life, Dr. Susan Silverman. Fictional Boston, it turns out, is a small world indeed.

Has any mystery writer ever referred to modern psychiatry and analysis more than Parker? This is yet another thing that differentiates Parker from the hard-boiled, noir authors on which he did his doctoral dissertation. In noir, the protagonists can identify and even bravely battle their internal demons. But fate has destined them to fail, even if it is ultimately a heroic failure. Classic noir is existential to the core. Parker was far too optimistic to be a noir writer, and perhaps that was the secret of his success. Readers liked Spenser, Jesse and Sunny; they wanted them to succeed and wanted to believe that happy endings were still possible.

If SPLIT IMAGE is the last time we will read about Jesse and Sunny, readers will not be disappointed or saddened by the ending as this just might be the best of the Jesse Stone novels. And it is certainly Parker at his best, with 67 tightly written chapters spread over 277 enjoyable pages. As a novelist, I have been constantly amazed over the years by his ability to write cinematic, character-driven chapters of just four pages each. As a writer, that is not easy to do. The narrative discipline required to do that is remarkable. Robert B. Parker was able to do it every time out. Read SPLIT IMAGE, and you will see that we have lost a great writer. But the work lives on forever.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2010
Split Image: A Jesse Stone Novel
Robert B Parker 2010

Good, solid Parker 5*

If you've liked the recent Jesse Stone novels such as Night and Day, this one should appeal to you as well, mellow and thoughtful as opposed to exciting and suspenseful. Jesse's personal relations and thoughts (and those of Sunny Randall who also figures prominently in the book) seem equally as important as the actual criminal cases and investigative work, and even those are remarkably low key for a double gang-land homicide, religious cults and abductions.

Jesse's case shows up in the trunk of an abandoned Cadillac, the corpse of one Petrov Ognowski, a small time strong-arm man who worked for Reggie Galen, a mob boss supposedly retired to Paradise ... right next door to another major thug, Knocko Moynihan. When Jesse visits Reggie and Knocko, he is astonished to find them maried to two beautiful and charming women, identical twins, both seemingly devoted to their husbands ... which triggers a fit of jealous depression when he compares them to his ex, Jenn. The plot only thickens when another mobster is found dead in Paradise, and others disappear from the Galen and Moynihan enclaves, and, in typical Parker fashion, Jesse digs into the past of the lovely twins, revealing that not all is well in Paradise.

Sunny Randall, meanwhile, visits Jesse to ask a bit of help with her current case, finding a young woman who has joined a religious group called the Bond of the Renewal, which has set up shop in Paradise, and encourage her to come home. The Renewal seems relatively straightforward, Cheryl DeMarco there by her own choice, and indeed the Concord-dwelling parents far wackier and more sinister. Of course not all is well in this corner of Paradise either.

Jesse, as usual, skirmishes with the Demon Rum (ok, Scotch), even loses a round or two, and vents to his wise ex-cop therapist, Dix. Sunny, meanwhile, runs off to her own wise therapist ... someone named Susan Silverman who practices in Cambridge. Since Spenser isn't dragged into this one, Sunny takes over the role of commenting on how beautiful and "put together" Susan is, and reminding us that she has a Harvard Ph.D. They both have breakthroughs, or at least insights (so why do they still need to go back after all these years?), and discuss their respective therapies with each other amidst occasional canoodling. For the Renewal case has brought the two together again (as foreshadowed in Night and Day). They end on a tentative note, still haunted by the ghosts of Jesse's Jenn and Sunny's mobster ex, Richie. Alas, we'll never know whether they can find a relationship in the here and now, burying those ghosts, or will continue floundering in the Paradise tides.

I could give this 4 or 5 *s, but will round up as a farewell gesture.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
I have been a huge RBP fan for almost 30 years. I won't condemn him for this but he was "mailing them in" for the most part during the last few years. The first Jesse Stone novel was good and, as he established a relationship between the characters and the reader he slacked off. Split Image, for example has a plot as thin as tissue and even Parker's sparkling dialogue is missing here.

Whether Parker was writing on Sunny or Jesse or Spenser he had all the same characters spewing the same clever repartees, euphemisms, etc, as if they had all learned it from each other, i.e. "we'd be fools not to", etc. Though Jesse is simply a younger Spenser with a drinking problem and Jenn is simply a lighter and more airheaded version of Susan Silverman (both high maintenance broads) I could accept the incestuous interchange in characters as they began appearing in each other's stories as long as there was an entertaining and clever plot. Alas, what is probably the last Jesse Stone novel is lacking.

As I said I won't condemn Mr. Parker for this. I bought the increasingly inferior product because it was Parker. We all did. We chose to overlook the declining quality of product because, hey, RBP is an old friend. We overlooked the larger printing fonts and the increasing number of blank pages in the book to make the book look like it was worth $25 bucks. All the while RBP was courting wife Joan and shuffling from one Boston fine dining establishement or bar where the tab ran into the hundreds. Hell, he could afford it and we loyal fans stuck with him to the end.

But I miss RBP's earlier fine works; adequately plotted, dialogue sparkling, font and page formats honest. I continue to re-read some of his earlier works; I visit them as if they are old friends. Not so much what Parker turned out in the last five years or so.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
"Split Image", the final "Jesse Stone" thriller, can be more accurately described as a "Jesse Stone & Sunny Randall" thriller, as both Robert B. Parker protagonists are in it about equally. It's a fun, engaging story- stories, actually, as Jesse and Sunny are working separate cases- but there's really nothing you haven't seen before: Jesse investigates two murders that initially look like mob hits, but soon learns that intimate doings closer to home might have played a part in the crimes; Sunny looks into the case of a runaway girl, and- not surprisingly- finds family dysfunction at the heart of the matter.

In other words, the dark underbellies of marriage and family life once again are the real culprits here. Don't worry, I won't get more specific, but let's just say that we've been down this path before. This time, the results are perfectly fine, but don't deliver the resonance and subtlety of similar Parker plots like the ones in "Paper Doll", "Early Autumn", and a few other entries with strong family elements. There's lots of sex, though, both of the healthy and strange varieties.

Two particular sequences made me roll my eyes a bit. Both Jesse and Sunny experience "breakthroughs" with their psychiatrists, and I wasn't totally sold on what they learned. Jesse now believes that his own controlling nature is what caused his ex-wife Jenn to cheat, and Sunny comes to believe it was her fear of being turned into her weak, accepting mother that made her drive her strong husband away. So much for the idea of Jenn relentlessly cheating because of selfishness and career ambitions and Sunny leaving her husband because he was too controlling. Those were the general ideas put forth in earlier novels, and they seemed to make sense at the time. But I guess anything is open to re-examination.

In the end, "Split Image" is the usual fast, engaging, and smart Parker read, and so you certainly shouldn't avoid it if you've been onboard this long. I just wish this last Parker-penned "Jesse Stone" novel was a little more sharp and memorable. But that's okay. Dr. Parker had given us so many great books over the years that one would be a cad to complain about the ones that are merely "pretty good".
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2010
Somehow when Parker teams Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall together, it stops being a great read. The story was so, so and the ending was just that. The book ended. I love the Jesse Stone books and have never read any Sunny Randall. Maybe I should get a Sunny Randall book to see what it is like, b/c the two of them just did not "make it" for me. I want to sincerely thank Robert Parker for all the great hours of reading that he has given me for many, many years. Fantastic author and may he rest in eternal peace and his family has my deep condolences. Wonderful author just missed on this one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2010
The book is classic Parker, with Jesse and Sunny building their relationship. If you've enjoyed his other books you'll like this one.

My big problem is with the quality of the conversion to Kindle. The Kindle edition is littered with typographical and layout errors. There are extra spaces in the middle of words ("i n" instead of "in"), words that are just completely missing, paragraphs of convesration between people that are strung together in a big bunch, and missing punctuation. As my first experience reading a book on Kindle, it really wasn't the greatest.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The passing of Robert Parker is truly a sad event for the fans of both Spenser and Jesse Stone. "Split Image" shows Parker still at the top of his game. A master of snappy dialogue and careful plotting that is never over written gives his fans an experience he has been providing for more than three decades. Knowing that there are still a few manuscripts left in the pipeline is little consolation.

"Split Image" should not be missed by mystery/ detective fiction. A great reading experience for a late night story time that includes two separate mysteries that need Jesse's attention, so Sunny Randall makes another appearance to help him along, and to renew their romance. Good time.
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