A Book Spy Review: ‘Robert B. Parker’s The Bitterest Pill’ by Reed Farrel Coleman

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The Bitterest PillIn this 18th installment of Robert B. Parker’s New York Times bestselling series, the opioid crisis finally reaches the small town of Paradise, where police chief Jesse Stone is waiting to bring down those supplying the drugs and bringing them into Massachusetts. 

Though no stranger to crime in general, Paradise has largely avoided the opioid epidemic–that is, until people suddenly begin overdosing on heroin. One of the victims, a high school senior named Heather Mackey, died after taking a lethal combination that also included Fentanyl, raising the stakes for top cop Jesse Stone. With the town reeling from the loss of the hometown teen beauty queen, Stone sets his sights on Heather’s supplier—fellow teen Chris Grimm.

Grimm, a high school student himself, sold Heather the drugs that killed her, but as Jesse knows, Chris is nowhere near the top of the food chain. Somebody else had to supply him with the drugs to sell, and that is who Stone wants. Problem is, Arakel Sarkassian, the bad guy behind the local supply chain, has Chris scooped up and killed before he can talk, leaving Jesse with little to work with in the form of promising leads. 

Short on clues but driven by the growing number of helpless addicts and unfortunate deaths, Jesse begins looking through Heather’s life, interviewing everyone from her parents to her friends in hopes of finding a thread to follow. Eventually, he does, and the book’s best twist comes when one of the major players is finally revealed . . . leaving Stone, and the reader, shocked. 

It cannot be overstated enough just how great Reed Farrel Coleman has been for this franchise. By now, it’s well documented that his style and prose is significantly different than Parker’s, but often times too big a deal is made of that fact. The reality is, much like different directors helming separate films within a single movie franchise—take Mission: Impossible, for example—it’s obvious that Coleman’s take on the universe is his own, and yet the characters still read true to who Parker created. That’s really what matters most, and for what it’s worth, Coleman’s hard-boiled style suits these characters and this universe perfectly. 

As for the story, this is probably Coleman’s best Stone book to date. Last year’s Colorblind was really good as well, but some of the stuff from that book—speaking specifically about Jesse’s personal life and a certain revelation (which we’ll omit here for spoiler purposes)—allowed for a continued pay off here as the police chief is left dealing with those things. Throwing those personal issues into the mix, on top of a timely and powerful story about drugs and how they can affect society, leads to a suspense-filled plot that moves pretty quickly, building steam as it chugs along towards a surprise ending that longtime fans of this series will appreciate.

Book Details

Author: Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Jesse Stone #18
Pages: 368 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0399574972
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: September 10, 2019
Book Spy Rating: 8.5/10

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Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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