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Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Renegades, by T. Jefferson Parker (hardcover, $26.95)

Warning: Do yourself a favor and don't read this review if you haven't read L.A. Outlaws.

Note to self: Never read a T. Jefferson Parker book set in Southern California after reading a Michael Connelly book set in Southern California. (It's hard not to make comparisons, but it would be like comparing apples and oranges. There are certain similarities, but the taste is very different.)

T. Jefferson Parker brings back Charlie Hood of L.A. Outlaws. I really liked L.A. Outlaws and the vigilante character of Allison Murietta, but she is dead and gone by The Renegades, and more's the pity. Charlie was definitely the less interesting of the two characters, but he is the only one left standing at the end of L.A. Outlaws.

Charlie is a sheriff's deputy in Los Angeles County and has exiled himself to the desolate Antelope Valley, east of the city of Los Angeles. But however much he tries to turn from his past, there are still connections that won't let go. For instance, he is set to testify in L.A. against a fellow officer because of events related in L.A. Outlaws.

He also still wants to be a homicide detective with the sheriff's department in the city of Los Angeles, but not in the style of the old-time cops who bonded into groups complete with team identities, like "The Renegades," groups that eventually self-destructed through corruption and misuse of power. If Charlie stands against anything, it is against misuse of power. So Charlie is caught in limbo. He is still vilified by other officers because he turned against "one of his own," regardless of how corrupt the officer was. The homicide door is still shut to him.

When Charlie witnesses Terry Laws, his new partner, murdered while on duty, Charlie joins Internal Affairs to find out who killed Terry and why. It is not as simple as it appears, of course. The killer resembles a small-time gangsta Charlie has run across before. Was this a revenge killing because Laws lost the gangsta's dog during a bust when a good deed went wrong? As Charlie digs deeper into Laws's past, he discovers a possible connection to a Mexican cartel and money smuggling. Once again, Charlie is embroiled in another potential bad cop case.

Parker allows us to see both the inner turmoil and the inner quiet that Charlie juggles. He is at peace in the remote Antelope Valley, but he feels a responsibility to people from his past, including one of Allison's teenage sons, so a large part of his life is spent in the frenetic world of Southern California. When his current case also draws him back into the same world, he must decide if his search for justice is worth the risk to his career and his peace of mind.

The story had good pacing and interesting plotting, but sometimes Parker's poetic dialogue was a little jerky and the storyline suffered from the artificial juxtaposition of the first-person narrative of Coleman Draper, a reserve deputy and another of Terry Laws's partners, and the third-person story of Charlie Hood. (And personally, I think Draper's female companions were from outer space.) But, in the final analysis, it's a good story with a shocking insight into the uncontrollable world of drug and money smuggling between California and Mexico.

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