Review

Red Light

by T. Jefferson Parker

Merci Rayborn is an investigator with the Orange County,
California Sheriff's Department, whom readers of T. Jefferson
Parker's thrillers first met in last year's THE BLUE HOUR. Now she
returns in his new novel, RED LIGHT --- in an even worse
predicament than the last time we saw her. I kept thinking (even
while I knew it wouldn't make a good thriller), "Will someone
please give this poor woman a break?" I'm sure Merci, if she'd
heard me thinking that, would've bashed me on the head for it ---
or at least given me a dirty look. This is not a woman who ever
gives herself a break and, in fact, might not even know one if it
was the size of the San Andreas fault and she fell in it.

Yet, she's a great character, the kind who could easily carry a
whole series, let alone two books. Nearly six feet tall,
dark-haired, big-boned, strong both physically and mentally, she
has an appealing emotional vulnerability she keeps hidden from the
world, but not from the reader. That's what makes Merci tick, and
you can't help but feel compelled to hang in there with her every
step of the way.

In THE BLUE HOUR, Merci learned the ropes from Tim Hess, an old law
enforcement guy. Sick and disillusioned, he recovered some of his
zest for life from her and became her mentor. Much of that book was
warmed by an unlikely, yet believable, well-written sexual tension
between Tim and the much-younger Merci; and no, I will not say how
it turned out. If you haven't read BLUE HOUR, you might want to
pick up the mass-market paperback (recently issued) and read it
first. But you don't have to --- RED LIGHT stands alone well.

Two years have passed in Merci's life since we last saw her, and
during that time she has become involved with another officer named
Mike McNally. Her new work partner is Paul Zamorra, whose wife has
a brain tumor and is in the hospital. Much of the time Zamorra is
absent and Merci is working alone, yet Zamorra's subplot is
engrossing and important to the book's overall texture and
tone.

The plot revolves around the murders of two prostitutes, one in the
present, the other a cold case twenty-plus years old. Merci is
assigned principle investigator in both cases, and yes, they do
turn out to be linked. Police and Sheriff Deptartment corruption,
and the same ugly stuff in Orange County politics, are all factors
that come into play as Merci unravels the truth.

T. Jefferson Parker just plain writes well. For instance, upon
being told about a "kiddie-raper" on the loose in her territory:
"Merci shook her head and thought about her own son meeting such an
end. A dark, svelte violence in her shifted and stared out past its
coils."

This is my favorite kind of book --- a thriller in which good
writing and great characters drive the story. Personally, I don't
care that much whether the protagonist is male or female, but it's
a bonus for me (being female, myself, the last time I looked) when
it's a woman who feels the way I do about a lot of things. For
example, when Merci's mulling over why should she continue to do
what she does for a living, she thinks: "Because people die every
day who aren't supposed to, and the assholes who do it shouldn't go
free." And again, when challenged on the same subject by another
character, she says: "Tuesday night a woman got murdered. I'm going
to find the creep who did it. To me, the questions that matter are
still the same. That's why I do what I do."

In RED LIGHT, Merci pursues the killer to the bitter end --- even
when first the current case, and then the old, cold case turn into
scenarios that just about could not be worse for her personally.
And speaking of pursuit, readers who enjoy a solid thriller will do
well to pursue this book. Although, in my opinion, RED LIGHT is not
quite as masterful as THE BLUE HOUR (few books are), it is still a
very, very good read; the kind of book that leaves you feeling
satisfied that sometimes things do work out better than you fear
they will. Which in the kind of world we have today is no small
thing.

Reviewed by on January 23, 2011

Red Light
by T. Jefferson Parker

  • Publication Date: April 26, 2000
  • Hardcover: 326 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 0786866004
  • ISBN-13: 9780786866007