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Review: ‘The Border Lords’ by T. Jefferson Parker


By T. Jefferson Parker

Dutton, 384 pages, $26.95

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Los Angeles County Deputy Charlie Hood returns in T. Jefferson Parker’s fourth novel of what is now tagged a six-book series, the Border books. The series chronicles a core group of characters on both sides of the law and some caught in a moral gray area in between: Charlie, again working with the ATF; Bradley Jones, son of late bandita Suzanne Jones, who was a love interest of Charlie’s in the first book; Bradley’s wife singer-songwriter Erin; Carlos Herreda, head of the Baja Cartel; and other assorted desperadoes and interested parties.

Several plots are juggled at once in The Border Lords, and much like last year’s Iron River, surprising elements of an Otherworld crop up. In Iron River, beguiling character Mike Finnegan stirred the pot; here it is undercover ATF agent Sean Ozburn aka Gravas who seems to have crossed some kind of psychic line, his world now pulsing with superior strength and the ability to hear things he shouldn’t hear from impossible distances. The reader is supposed to be in the dark regarding these strengths/ailments, but clues abound like wildflowers and only the half-asleep reader will fail to piece together the hints.

The hub around which all of the action takes place is Ozburn’s off-the-reservation adventures. The man apparently has gone rogue, playing his own game, knocking off low-level cartel soldiers, kicking at a hornet’s nest of trouble. He is a man on a mission except the mission is not his government’s. A mysterious priest, Joe Leftwich, has manipulated Sean into going after the evil that lies at the heart of Sean’s world, a world that as an undercover cop had assumed every gray tone available but now, with Father Leftwich’s guidance, edges have sharpened, colors delegated to black or white, evil defined more clearly. A sense of desperate urgency builds like a cumulus launching itself over a mountain, its storm soon to unleash its anger on all below.

To write that there are hints of evil is to understate the current that throbs like a vein on the verge of bursting. Sean gives it color and a sound and a vocabulary, opening a door to his heart. Sean’s love for his wife Seliah seems like a live 220-volt wire that Sean taps into as often as possible; their shared passion elevates every action to graceful dance. The thing that is wrong with Sean is also wrong with Seliah. They then seem like twined comets racing into a part of the universe even darker than a black hole; and if there’s a lesson, it’s that an all-consuming love bends everything to its wants.

In the running game between cops and robbers, as in war, truth is the first victim. No one tells anyone else the truth. Even when Bradley comes clean with his wife Erin, he holds back so that what Erin believes is a moment of naked love and trust and vulnerability; it’s merely another construct to get them through the night.

As was the case in books two and three, Bradley Jones and Charlie Hood perform a deadly pas de deux. Bradley, who fancies himself a modern-era bandito, has hidden in plain sight having become an L.A. County Deputy; he uses his smarts and cartel connections to engineer his successes as a cop.

After his strong performance in Iron River, I had assumed that Bradley would become the focus of Hood’s attention; but I also hadn’t known this was a six-book gig, and with two more to go it makes sense to pull back, let Bradley drift just a little into the wings, tell the story from another angle. For example, see what Mike Finnegan’s up to these days.

We’ll see who’s story it is next time.

Randy Michael Signor is a Seattle-based free-lance writer.

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