Recent Read: The Hangman’s Sonnet

Hangmans-SonnetRobert B Parker’s Jesse Stone is one of my favorite characters. Jesse was once a promising shortstop until he suffered a career-ending injury. After that, Jesse became a police officer with the L.A. Police. He developed a drinking problem (Johnny Walker Black) after his wife Jan left him. It cost him his job. He eventually got the position of Chief of Police in the small fictional Massachusetts town of Paradise; mainly because the town’s political honchos knowing his damaged history thought they could control him. They didn’t know Jesse.

The Hangman’s Sonnet, Reed Farrel Coleman’s fourth book in the series,  picks up not too long after where Debt to Pay finishes with the death of Jesse’s fiance Diana. With Diana death, his drinking, always a problem, has unraveled forcing one on one interventions from co-workers and friends to help Jesse keep his job. Meanwhile, the management team of Terry Jester, one time called Boston’s Bob Dylan, has approached Jesse about a big industry party to be held in Paradise to publicize the release of Terry’s first album in decades. The recordings mysteriously disappeared before its release as Jester himself did a J.D. Salinger at the same time, and has not been heard from or seen since. The few who heard the album years ago say it is a masterpiece and would place Jester in the top ranks of artists.

Meanwhile, two thugs, King and Hump, recently released from prison, break into the home of a wealthy old lady. They have been hired by a third person, to retrieve some important items, they themselves are not even sure what they are looking for which makes the job difficult. The thugs tear up the house as they search. Unfortunately, during the home invasion the elderly woman, tied up and gagged, dies. No one was supposed to die.

Jesse is working the case, trying to hold on to his job, and his drinking problem all at the same time. He eventually comes to the conclusion that somehow the missing Jester tapes and the break-in resulting in the old woman’s death are connected. If he’s wrong, his job could be once again in jeopardy.

 The Hangman’s Sonnet is a fast-paced read, though there may be a little too much time spent on Jesse’s drinking which is full tilt boogie. Coleman though is a good storyteller and he captures Parker’s rhythm and nuances perfectly.

 

Recent Read: The Killer Inside Me

 

Jim Thompson’s protagonist, deputy sheriff Lou Ford, is slow thinking and a bit on the corny side, at least, that is what he wants everyone in the small Texas town he lives in to believe. He bores people with dull platitudes so he can watch them squirm, and he gets a laugh for himself as they all get sucked into his game. Everybody sees Lou as a good guy, a good ‘ol boy, who wouldn’t hurt a fly. However, in truth, Lou is a violent psychopath with a dark history and a streak of violent behavior that he keeps in control under his regular guy facade…until he can’t.

The novel was published in 1952 when post-war America was drawn to Eisenhower, conformity and white picket fences in the suburbs. Americans were reading books like My Cousin Rachel, The Silver Chalice, and The Caine Mutiny. They weren’t in the mood for cheap paperbacks dealing with alienated,  psychologically damaged killers. It’s easy to see why. Thompson’s first-person narrative forces the reader to go inside the blistering mind of a diabolically crazed killer in a way that most writers cannot even fathom. It’s a chilling, nasty, and at times hard to stomach journey. The Killer Inside Me is noir at it darkest.

Note:

This is the second novel I have read by Jim Thompson. I mistakenly told a few folks on-line The Killer Inside Me was my first. Writing this review reminded me I wrote an article, a few years back, on the film version of After Dark, My Sweet, and at that time had read the book. Okay, that’s about it for true confessions. 🙂  I have attached a link to the After Dark, My Sweet article here if you are interested.