Hard to believe, but T. Jefferson Parker just wrote a book better than Silent Joe. I hate him so much.
Iron River is the third in Parker’s Charlie Hood series, which began with L.A. Outlaws and continued with The Renegades. One of the things I like about Jeff’s Charlie Hood novels is that he lets Charlie have a past. I like a series that doesn’t dismiss what came before, where the characters remember their own history. I do, why shouldn’t they? And even if he did kill off my favorite character in the very first book, I’m willing to forgive Jeff anything for the recurring totem of this series, which is, believe me or believe me not, the actual head of Mexican American heartless killer or Robin Hood (pick one) Joaquin Murietta, which floats in a large, liquid-filled glass jar and is handed down to Murietta descendants, who appear as major characters in the Hood novels.
Iron River is about an almost biblical battle between beleaguered US law enforcement agents and seemingly invulnerable and unstoppable Mexican drug lords, with two actual battle scenes that will have you on the edge of your seat. The first one occurs early on, California/ATF cops against drug dealers, at night, across the border in a Mexican countryside where they have to watch out for rattlesnakes as they’re sneaking up on the hacienda while trying not to be skewered on the cactus. The bad guys have flame throwers. No lie. Later on there is a scene where our heroes ride into a village that is reminiscent of one of the early Man With No Name films. (In my imagination Charlie’s starting to look a little like Clint Eastwood.)
Later, Parker carries on the good-vs.-evil theme when Charlie has a close encounter with someone who may be the devil (I’m sure he is, but Charlie is unconvinced.). The devil even has a handmaiden. Later still, I was horrified when I realized I wanted the gunsmith to get away, just another example of Parker’s great characterization: I’m rooting for all the wrong people. That will pull you up with a jolt.
Great characterization, epic plot and as always that wonderful Parker ability to put you right down in the southern California countryside, recoiling from the cholla spines. Jeff never fails to remind me how glad I am to live in Alaska. I’ll take a grizzly bear over a rattlesnake any day.