Robert. B. Parker’s “Debt to Pay” by Reed Farrel Coleman ingeniously creates a cat and mouse story. In bringing back the serial killer, assassin, and terrorist Mr. Peepers the plot reveals more of Police Chief Jesse Stone’s personality, as he must chase down his nemesis while saving those he loves.
Two books ago, “The Devil Wins,” Jesse struggled to capture Mr. Peepers who eventually escaped. Now, after a major crime boss is murdered, Jesse suspects it’s the work of Mr. Peepers, a psychotic assassin who has threatened to avenge Jesse’s broken promise by targeting those close to the Chief. Figuring that the allusive sadistic serial killer will strike at his ex-wife Jenn’s wedding Jesse and Diana agree to travel to Dallas to be a part of the wedding, and to hopefully stop Peepers. Jesse and Diana, the former FBI agent who has turned private security consultant, hope to put closure to his relationship with his ex-wife as they also covertly try to protect her from the psychological and physical torture of Peepers. As he tries to find Peepers Jesse wonders is the killer going after Jenn, Diana, deputy Molly, or deputy Suitcase Simpson?
Coleman described Mr. Peepers as “a sadist, control freak, part serial killer, and part hit man, but also a little human because he has great affection for Jenn. I think he is creepy like Hannibal Lechter. They are both bright, very controlling, one step ahead of most people, condescending, a feeling of superiority, and has affection for a particular person. I think anyone who writes a mystery with a serial killer has some influence of the Hannibal character. I think I was influenced unconsciously, but not consciously.”
What is intriguing is how Coleman shows the differences in personality between Diana and Jen. Diana seems to appear to be more of Jesse’s soul mate who is very independent, smart, good at her job, and comfortable in her own skin. Compared to Jenn who is manipulative, wussy, dependent, and clingy. Both women have Jesse’s devotion, but with Diana he feels he has found an equal.
The author hopes to show “Diana is more self fulfilled and does not need anyone to complete her. Could you imagine Jenn jumping out of a car and chasing a mugger as Diana did in this book? Jenn would have told Jesse to do it. One of the things fans of the series have asked me is to kill Jenn off. I found their relationship as annoying as the fans. I hope in this book I rehabilitated her. Jesse is a guy who needed to fix things and Jenn needed the help in getting things fixed. Jesse knew she was manipulative, but with Jenn’s new husband she does not seem so whiny or needy.”
The underlying theme has something readers can relate to: be careful how you react to people because that can have dire consequences. How many times has someone been offended by a person’s actions whether being cussed out, cut-off by a car, or someone just being downright uncaring.
Having people think before they react is important to Coleman. “We encounter that in our everyday life. Readers did not want the rude person in the story to be tortured. Yet, we have all thought someone rude and wish they would get their due. Someone who says, ‘F— You’ even though they did the rude act. Its crazy. I want people to think that they should not be rude to someone else because you never know if that person will take out a gun and shoot you.”
“Debt to Pay” does not have a dull scene. It is action-packed, tension filled, and riveting. Because Coleman has such well-developed characters people will find Peepers creepy, Jesse as the knight in shining armor, Jenn as the damsel in distress, and Diana as the self assured partner to Jesse both personally and professionally.