Jeff Parker's Charlie Hood books can be frustrating: they posit the existence of devils and angels, engaged in a competition over us humans; more than once reading this novel I thought about John Stewart's song 'Strange Alliance', also known by the last line of its chorus, 'like heavyweight champs, after the fight, does Christ hang out with the Devil at night?' Reviewing earlier books in the series I didn't give away the gimmick, but now it is so much out in the forefront it has to be revealed, essentially because within the terms of something you might find supernatural, Parker makes this work as a hard-driving border noir that deals primarily in ambiguities, and in the power of love to overcome what we would have to call evil.
The local devil in these books is Mike Finnegan (no relation, I hope, to the great singer-organist of the Serfs, and then any number of records, not least Jimi Hendrix' and including his one fine solo album I know about) and he has his clutches deep into Bradley Jones, the son of Suzanne Jones, aka Alison Murietta, Hood's antagonist and love from LA Outlaws (see my review here). I mentioned Jones in my review of Border Lords, which you will find immediately after LA Outlaws from 2012 on this blog--where I mentioned it was criminal Parker wasn't in print--Sandstone Press deserves kudos for getting him back in print in this country. I now need to catch up with the previous Hood novel, The Jaguar, which is referenced in this one, but doesn't need to be read first (though it would likely help).
Reviewing Border Lords I mentioned, again without explaining, how the gimmick of devils created a problem, but as I implied above, Parker has sorted it out pretty deftly. The Famous And The Dead addresses it directly, making it the major obstacle Hood, in the end, has to overcome. It's complicated: Jones and Finnegan have tied Hood up in a corruption package which seems likely to end his career; Jones' wife Erin is expecting a baby but living with Hood and his girlfriend Beth, but Beth is starting to have doubts about what Hood is willing to do to win his fight with the devil. Meanwhile Finnegan wants Brad and Erin's child, but would prefer he be raised by Jones and his own squeeze, a woman named Owens. Throw in an assassination committed with a gun from a shipment Hood should have stopped, a gang of Missouri rednecks dealing stinger missiles, and Mary Beth, the girlfriend of one of them, who's come to LA to be an actress, as well as an angel trapped down a deep cave, and it's a complicated story that continually twists and turns.
And the way it does resolve itself is interesting, not as you'd expect, though there is a more logical fate awaiting Finnegan, which will still be available in the next book in the series. The deck reshuffles, and Hood winds up with a partner I would not have expected, and maybe not the most interesting of the possibilities. Call me sentimental. Also call me convinced Parker can pull off this mix of crime and deviltry: it's somewhere between light-hearted and chilling (Thorne Smith and John Connolly perhaps), but remember too, there are probably more Americans who believe in angels than in evolution.
The Famous And The Dead by T. Jefferson Parker
Sandstone Press £8.99 ISBN 9781908737366