THE BORDER LORDS is T. Jefferson Parker’s fourth Charlie Hood novel. As he has done in the previous books in the series --- L.A. OUTLAWS, THE RENEGADES and IRON RIVER --- Parker drives his readers through a riveting and intoxicating primary plot, while in the background a semi-constant group of secondary players contribute to the construction of…something else. It is this “something else” that removes these stories from easy genre classification. There are wisps and whispers and footprints of other authors, scribes as diverse as Cormac McCarthy, Carlos Castaneda, Ross Macdonald and John Connolly, but most of all of T. Jefferson Parker.
I keep waiting for something --- a feature on “60 Minutes,” a television series, an article in a newsmagazine --- that will thrust Parker and his work front and center to the attention and focus of the mainstream audience, that will have people lined up down the block on some rainy Tuesday midnight in anticipation of his next novel. Yes, he is that good. And THE BORDER LORDS is an excellent book.
Charlie Hood is an L.A. sheriff on long-term loan to the ATF. He is assisting the agency in an operation called Blowdown, which is tasked with interrupting and intercepting the flow of firearms at the joint border of the United States and Mexico, a place of violence and danger where rules and regulations are best observed in the breach. It is the locus of a complicated world where a war for control is taking place between the North Baja and the Gulf Cartels. Already in a dangerous place, Hood finds himself even more deeply involved when Sean Ozburn, an undercover ATF agent, suddenly goes rogue, destroying a North Baja safe house and the gangsters in it and then falling off Blowdown’s grid except for occasionally cryptic dispatches. Hood, a close friend of Ozburn’s, is tasked with bringing him in and utilizes Ozburn’s wife, Seliah, to do so. Seliah, though, is fiercely loyal to her husband, and the behavior of both becomes increasingly erratic and dangerous in ways that even they do not understand.
Meanwhile, Bradley Jones, a newly minted L.A. deputy, is planning a sting of his own. Jones, Hood’s erstwhile protégé whose ultimate loyalty is himself, is badly but brilliantly bent, maneuvering through the murky borderline between law enforcement and criminality to work both ends against the middle, always to his ultimate advantage. Jones and Ozburn, working independently of each other, each fashion their own double-cross on the warring cartels in such a way as to slowly put themselves and Hood into the crossfire. The target of all three men is a new and very deadly firearm known as the Love 32, a designer weapon that could well tip the balance of power along the border in favor of those possessing the superior number of same.
Does this sound like a great plot? Absolutely. But Parker takes things a few steps further. Everyone, from Hood to Jones to both of the Ozburns, is being played. And the players are two mysterious and seemingly very different men. One is Father Joe Leftwich, who is introduced early on and who holds the Ozburns --- Sean directly and Seliah indirectly --- under an enigmatic and, yes, malevolent sway. The other is Mike Finnegan, first introduced in IRON RIVER, who knows things he cannot and things he may not. Their actions are motivated by a hidden purpose that has yet to be revealed. Parker has stated elsewhere that he is going to write two more Hood novels, and the motivations of these actors (whose paths intersect, and dramatically so, by the conclusion of THE BORDER LORDS), is first among equals of a tantalizing number of hooks guaranteed to make the wait for his next work an excruciating one. And I haven’t even discussed the supercharged erotic scenes involving the Ozburns, Hood’s loose grip on his own wheel, or the fact that not all of your favorite characters will make it to the end of the story.
Not only should you read THE BORDER LORDS and the other books in the series, I also strongly recommend delving into his considerable and intriguing backlist. And I’ll see you on the street at midnight, this time next year.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 28, 2011