Swearing that he’s taken his last drink, alcoholic Paradise police chief Jesse Stone returns from the two months in rehab that followed his traumatic last case (Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet, 2017) to battle a white supremacist and investigate an assault that looks uncomfortably familiar.
The festivities welcoming Jesse back range from the wary greetings of Officer Molly Crane, who never wanted to serve as acting chief, to the skulking of Cole Slayton, whose gallons of attitude make no secret of why he’s been tossed in jail as drunk and disorderly. But Jesse’s most immediate problem concerns African-American Harvard doctoral student Felicity Wileford, who’s been beaten and raped in an assault that looks sadly reminiscent of Jesse’s first murder case in Paradise nearly 20 years ago. The burning of a cross outside Jesse’s old house, now home to Boston physician Ron Patel and his blonde wife, Liza, makes Jesse wonder if someone isn’t specifically targeting interracial couples for harassment—a suspicion that’s intensified by the appearance of a bunch of leaflets from a white supremacist group calling itself the Saviors of Society (the SS for short, in case you miss the point). Jesse and his department quickly lean on witnesses who might be more than witnesses, but Leon Oskar Vandercamp, the self-styled Colonel behind the SS, is equally efficient about getting a long-unidentified soldier who works for him to tie up every loose end with extreme prejudice. The plot thickens when Alisha Davis, the first African-American woman on Jesse's police force, is lured into pursuing a fleeing suspect into a blind alley from which she emerges accused by the authorities of an unjustified shooting and by the Colonel and his creatures of inciting the very same racial hatred that’s clearly been directed against her.
“Never thought we’d get this kind of thing come into Paradise,” sagely opines a regular who’s somehow missed the previous 16 installments. Coleman sounds nothing like Robert B. Parker, but if you can accept a truly far-fetched premise, this will keep franchise fans more than satisfied.