Friday, March 16, 2007

T. Jefferson Parker

Crime again, I'm afraid. When I'm trying to write a novel, I don't like to read other literary novels--their style starts bleeding into mine. So it's genre fiction--and Proust--until summer arrives.

(Yeah, Proust, in the new Penguin translations. With my book group, I'm 4/7ths through In Search of Lost Time, as it's now more suitably called, and I'll post about it when I've burrowed a few hundred pages into The Prisoner.)

Anyway, this week's crime novel is the new T. Jefferson Parker, Storm Runners. Parker's an odd phenomenon. He does indeed write police procedurals, and does have a couple of recurring characters, but his best stuff is generally the one-offs. (That Wikipedia entry I linked him to, by the way, is full of errors--not all his books are, in fact, police procedurals.) This is the opposite of what generally holds true with crime writers, which is that their series books are better than the one-offs (I'm thinking here of the non-Barbara Vine Ruth Rendell, and Michael Connelly, whose non-Harry-Bosch books have never done much for me).

Probably the best of Parker's novels is Silent Joe, a book about a policeman who gets dangerously entangled in the web of connections that bind cops and criminals. And come to think of it, the new one's about the same thing. And they both have vengeance as a theme, go figure.

But they're not regular thrillers, honest--they don't glorify violence, or vengeance for that matter, and they don't manipulate with easy emotion. Storm Runners (not a terrific title, I'm aware) is about a cop whose family has been killed by a Mexican mobster who was both a childhood friend and a former lover of his late wife. The cop, Matt Stromsoe, takes two years to recover, physically and emotionally, from the bombing, and gets a job as bodyguard to a Fox News weather lady who just happens to be monumentally hot and has also figured out how to make of course the head honcho of the Department of Water and Power, who has for years controlled the city's water supply, needs to have her killed, so as to preserve his importance, and he ends up getting mixed up with the same mobster who killed Stromsoe's family.

Wow, that sounds really dumb. But it's not! It's in the wild and implausible details that Parker's novels really cook--there, and in his prose, which is restrained, skillful, and marvelously unpurple. No expository dialogue, no passionate bad guy speeches, no churning logorrhoea about the blackness of the soul. Just good writing, solid pacing, strong characters, and lots of geeky information about rivers, weather, and the complex inner workings of prison life and Latino gangs. Plus, he's got the "first-intial/middle-name/last-name" mojo working, which as we know is the mark of brilliance.

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