Review: Night Passage

Robert B Parker – Night Passage

My edition was published by No Exit Press, paperback £8.99. I bought this book secondhand.

I’ve been in a reading (and everything) slump recently, what with <gestures at the world> so I reached for a tried and tested method to cure it: no-frills, page-turning thrillers. There was a Clive Cussler, and an Alastair Maclean, and I started to get back into a groove. Then I picked up this one from Robert B Parker, originally published in the late 1990s.

A prolific author of several series, plus standalones and co-authored books, US writer Parker died in 2010, though his work remains available and there are also continuation series novels being published by No Exit Press. Did it do the trick of kicking me out of the slump? Well, I was nearly half-way through it before I looked up…

Night Passage begins with two endings. Jesse Stone, who has turned in his badge and gun to LAPD, takes a last long look at the ocean at Santa Monica before getting into his car and heading east. On the opposite coast, Tom Carson is persuaded that his only course of action is to resign as his town’s chief of police and relocate with his family, the inference being the further the better. Paradise, Massachusetts loses Carson and gains Stone. Is there trouble in Paradise? Of course there is.

Stone was fired from LAPD because he drank on the job. He was hired by Hasty Hathaway, of the Paradise Board of Selectmen, because he drank on the job and was drunk at the interview. But police captain Lou Burke, also present at the interview, isn’t so sure Stone is what Paradise – specifically what certain select men in Paradise – needs. “He’s got more iron in him than I was expecting,” Burke tells Hathaway after Stone arrives. Hathaway disagrees: “He seems pretty harmless to me.”

Which is, frankly, a giant red flag to suggest that things are not going to go the way Hathaway and Burke had planned, and an equally giant red flag to the reader that this hard-boiled-with-a-soul novel – which during Stone’s cross-country drive has given us both plenty of back story and a surprising amount of emotion for a man of few words – is going to be a hell of a ride. An explosive interaction on his first day as chief between Stone and Jo Jo Genest, and an explosive incident involving Carson, cement that feeling.

There’s money-laundering, a militia and extra-marital mischief – as one of Stone’s junior cops says: “All this stuff that isn’t what it’s supposed to be.” There’s room for a poetic turn of phrase and humorous moments, but these are more about giving the reader a moment to get their breath, there’s no wasting time or words on anything unnecessary to the plot. Within that plot there is plenty of action but also plenty of things to make you think, about communities, relationships and loyalties, and about what happens when you put your loyalty in the wrong place or for the wrong reasons. Sometimes you get what you need and deserve, rather than what you think you want.

Night Passage has a single plot that drives relentlessly forward, though with some entertaining tangles along the way. It has a classic “new sheriff in town” Western framing, but there’s a lot more to the posse than gun-slinging (seen in a tense yet heartfelt scene close to the end); the protagonist is a cop with a fractured personal life and a drink problem, who mostly sobers up and gets a new lease on life by the end. So it’s old school but with plenty of freshness, and the result is the pages turn satisfyingly quickly. Parker was obviously a master of his craft, and it’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

Reading slump, begone! Thank you RBP – RIP.

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