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Onyx reviews: Split Image by Robert B. Parker

Split Image is the first posthumous novel from Robert B. Parker, who passed away at his desk in early 2010. It is primarily a Jesse Stone novel, but it also feels like a reunion. Or a curtain call. Sunny Randall appears in the story as Stone's new girlfriend, though she has a case of her own to handle, and Susan Silverman (Sunny's psychiatrist and, more famously, Spenser's long time love) and Rita Fiore, a prosecutor who appeared in several Spenser novels, show up, along with Spike, Sunny's sidekick.

The main focus of Split Image is a pair of supposedly retired mobsters who live next door to each other in luxury mansions. Their close proximity is unexpected, as is the fact that the two men are married to young, beautiful, sexually aggressive twin sisters. Stone visits them after the body of a former strong arm man who worked for one of the mobsters is found dead in the trunk of a car. The visit causes a case of existential angst in Stone—he couldn't make his marriage work, he's living alone, working in the last job that will have him, and here are two old, fat thugs with gorgeous wives.

He's not entirely alone, of course, but logic doesn't stop him from a brief out-of-control spiral into alcoholic excess. Is he an alcoholic? His new girlfriend, private detective Sunny Randall, doesn't think so. She's in Paradise on the trail of a young woman who is living with a local "religious community". On her behalf, Jesse visits the cult headquarters and finds nothing suspicious. The young woman is happy and in love, and the cult's philosophy doesn't alarm him. No one is keeping her from leaving, and she seems happier there than with her parents.

Another mobster is killed, and the young woman vanishes from the enclave, throwing both plots into crisis. An investigation into the tawdry past of the gangsters' wives, who were known in school as the Bang Bang sisters, makes Stone think that something other than mob rivalry is responsible for the crime spree in the usually quiet community. Something as simple and as complicated as sex. 

Stone has to placate a dangerous relative of one of the victims to keep him from taking matters into his own hands and perhaps whacking the wrong suspects. The victim's wife, however, has an innovative way of ferreting out the truth.

Though he is known primarily for his Spenser novels, Parker  branched out into different crime series in later years. However, he wasn't really stretching any new muscles. Sunny Randall is a fast-talking, smart-mouthed Spenser clone, and her muscle-bound gay sidekick, Spike, is indistinguishable from Hawk, Spenser's muscle-bound black sidekick. Jesse Stone is as taciturn as Spenser, but there's a charm to the series that differentiates it from Parker's other books. True, they are structured the same way, brief, breezy novels driven almost entirely by dialog, but the supporting characters are colorful and engaging.

In addition to working on their respective cases, Stone and Randall also work on their personal control issues, especially as they pertain to past relationships. Both make breakthroughs and, by the end, they understand enough about themselves to see a possible future in their burgeoning romance. And that is where readers must leave them, on the cusp of possibility, like two figures on a Grecian urn frozen forever. It's unlikely there will be another Stone novel (Parker completed at least one, and perhaps two Spenser novels before he died), though the character may live on in the fine television adaptations produced by and starring Tom Selleck.

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