G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 368 pages, $27
I’ve always liked T. Jefferson Parker’s straight-ahead storytelling. He has usually set his stories in a place he knows well, Southern California. His characters are strongly delineated. There are no unreliable narrators, clowns in the gutter, or apocalyptic zombie terrorists.
Speaking of terrorists. Roland Ford, a private investigator last seen in “The Room of White Fire,” is trying to lift himself out of mourning the death of his wife in a plane crash. His current outstanding client wants him to find her missing giganto kittycat. Other than that, he sits on his rural homestead, which he shares with his “renters” — they’d be renters with no quotation marks if they actually paid on time, or at all — and plays ping pong and watches the day come along.
Then a former renter, Lindsey Rakes, returns. She was a lieutenant in the USAF and worked as a drone operator, a drone operator tasked with searching for terrorist targets in the Middle East and remotely sending death screaming down onto their heads. Someone has taken a strong dislike to Lindsey and other drone operators on her team. There was an unfortunate incident they were involved in, and the assumption is that the person threatening the team members is somehow related to that incident. In any event, Lindsey’s letter from “Caliphornia” says he or she would like to decapitate Lindsey. “The thunder is coming for you,” Caliphornia says.
Although Lindsey is successfully rebuilding her life and putting her drone work in the past and the subsequent PTSD in abeyance in order to regain custody rights to her young son, the threat has thrown her back to her old landlord for help.
Roland is not just a landlord and seeker of missing cats; he was once a cop in San Diego and a soldier in the Middle East. He is smart, tough, and protective of his friends. Lindsey is a friend, so he takes her case. (And won’t even charge her rent as she returns to one of the cabins on his land.)
There are not a lot of twists in this book. Books nowadays have too many twists sometimes, and it creates a false expectation that all books will have twists. There are gotcha! moments in “Swift Vengeance,” but that is not the attraction here. Roland’s loyalty, intelligence and judgment, and Parker’s portrayal of these qualities, are what should draw readers in. Parker is one of those good storytellers who doesn’t have to rely on tricks to satisfy readers.