Monday, 30 April 2012


NOTE: Two years ago I wrote the following review as part of my (now in limbo) American Eye column for Shots--the other part was Henry Chang's Chinatown. What the novels had in common was neither was published in the UK. I thought I'd reprint the L.A. Outlaws review here as a prologue to my review of Parker's The Border Lords, which will be the next post here. 

I jumped at the chance to pick up a 'new' T. Jefferson Parker novel when I was at the airport in New York recently, and as it turns out, that was a good thing I did, because neither the book I bought, L.A. Outlaws, nor his subsequent Renegades, has a UK publisher. This strikes me as being both unjust and amazing, because Parker's had a string of impressive standalones (and the three Merci Rayborn novels) published here. In fact, 2005's California Girls, was one of the two or three best crime novels of that year. What interests me most about Parker is the way he's willing to take risks; Fallen  could've been extremely gimmicky, but managed to avoid that fate, and I have a similar feeling about Outlaws.

Allison Murrieta is a masked bandita who performs small armed robberies and gives the proceeds to charity; she's claiming to be the descendant of the legendary outlaw Joaquin Murietta, beheaded by a posse in 1853. In reality, she's Suzanne Jones, a gorgeous school teacher who lives in the countryside a long way from downtown LA. One night, about to take down a sale of jewels, she witnesses an ambush and shootout which leaves the stones with her, and a bad gangster on her tail. Also on her tail is sheriff's deputy Charlie Hood, who is bedazzled by Suzanne Jones and her muscle cars, and soon suspicious as well.

Where Parker shines is in characterisation, and he does it here by alternating between Suzanne/Allison in first person, and Charlie Hood in third, which makes it easier for the reader to be carried away by the pace of Suzanne's life of crime. And you probably need to be carried away a little, as Charlie himself is, because otherwise you might ask yourself how, in the modern era of surveillance cameras and computers, she's able to keep Charlie bamboozled enough to keep the rest of the LA County Sheriffs force off her back. But because the pace of the story is so good, and the character so compelling, most readers will relax and go with the flow.

Of course it gets complicated: there are too many greedy people involved, as is usually the case in jewel thefts, and Murietta may be in over her head. Charlie is certainly in over his. But it is also to Parker's credit that he resolves things with some flair, including a bravura set-piece in a junkyard, but that the ultimate resolution is the kind of downbeat thing that smacks of realism, and more than justifies whatever suspension of disbelief you may have felt was necessary to indulge Murietta's career. It's a superior piece of high voltage action writing, a suspense thriller worthy of any on the market, and it seems amazing to me that this is the book British publishers would choose to leave untouched. By the way, Renegades  brings back Charlie Hood, who's an interesting study in down-to-earth, not super-hero, cop, and I'm already looking forward to that. It would be nice if I didn't have to go to America to read it!

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