Saturday, September 27, 2008

Darn Good Reading:
The Renegades
by T. Jefferson Parker

What a happy coincidence that I've been working on some great thrilling fiction written by native Californians. First there was Meg Gardiner; now there's T. Jefferson Parker, who is a best-selling author but until recently an unknown entity to me.

Parker's hardcover release of The Renegades (Dutton, February 2009) is a fast-moving ride through Southern California, where drug smuggling, gang warfare, and money laundering are commonplace . . . and where LA sheriff's deputies get to marinate in the worst of humankind. It's where even a cop known to his peers as "Mr. Wonderful" can be lured to the dark side. And, for those who are clever, ruthless, and just plain ballsy, there are ample opportunities to sell oneself to "the devil." It's where all kinds of crap hits the fan.

One of the things I liked best about The Renegades was the absence of a sagging middle. Avid readers and writers know what I'm referring to here--that place between the beginning and end where you sometimes want to walk to the fridge for a drink. Books aren't supposed to have intermission, though, and this one certainly doesn't. This is commercial fiction, full of stuff guys love--guns, pretty California girls, and chases through underground tunnels at the Mexican border. There's also plenty (I think) to recommend it to women, including tormented and tragic characters like Coleman Draper that make this a character-driven and plot-driven tale.

Draper's character reminded me of Raul Julia's artful portrayal of Carlos/Xavier Escalante, the drug lord who doubles as a police comandante, in the 1988 film Tequila Sunrise. Which also reminded me of the saying that there are no original stories left; it's what the writer brings to the story that makes it worth reading.

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