We are told by any number of authoritative sources that THE FAMOUS AND THE DEAD is the last installment of six in the Charlie Hood series. Author T. Jefferson Parker, while primarily known for his stand-alone works, has worked quite well with character-driven series before; the Hood novels, however, have arguably been his most fully conceptualized books. His latest answers some questions framed in prior volumes even as it raises a couple of others. We’ll revisit that issue in a bit. Suffice to say for now that it would be a shame to see this mesmerizing series end here.
For starters, let’s take a look at what has been laid on the table as the final course of what has been a sumptuous meal. Hood, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, is still on loan to the ATF, which in turn is still smarting from the adverse publicity resulting from the ill-advised, poorly-conceived, and dreadfully executed “Fast & Furious” debacle on the watch of Obama and Holder. Hood’s personal and professional lives are slipping away, despite his best efforts and good intentions with respect to both. Almost all of his difficulties revolve in one form or another around Bradley Jones, who himself is a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy, though one who is very badly bent, in part as the result of his involvement with a Mexican drug cartel. Erin, Jones’s pregnant and estranged wife, is ensconced within Hood’s home for protection. As the time for the birth of their child draws near, Jones is a frequent visitor, attempting to win back her heart, which he has lost as the result of his previous actions and misdeeds. Hood is fully aware of what Jones has wrought, even though he is unable to prove anything.
"THE FAMOUS AND THE DEAD provides a satisfying conclusion to the Charlie Hood series, or story arc, as the case may be. Surely, enough characters are left at the conclusion of the book to provide material for at least another installment or two (or five) should Parker choose to do so."
Meanwhile, Hood’s own relationship with Beth is slowly slipping for reasons that neither can fully articulate and despite Hood’s best efforts. Professionally, Hood is working undercover, trying to capture a trio of would-be illegal arms dealers who have come to southern California looking for big spenders and high rollers. The wild card in this very wild deck is Mike Finnegan, who by turns has fascinated and plagued Hood since the beginning of the series. One of the key scenes involves a meeting between Finnegan and Jones, where Finnegan makes Jones a chilling but tempting offer and at the same time provides him with a startling revelation. The execution of the deal involves ruining Hood, and indeed, Finnegan provides Jones with the means to destroy Hood while at the same time saving his own career. Finnegan, as always, has his own goals in mind, and one in particular is quite chilling.
Those who have wondered who and what the mysterious Finnegan is will have their questions answered here. That answer gives rise to another question: How does someone like Hood stop someone like Finnegan? The reader will learn that and much more before story’s end, which has many losers and few who fully win.
THE FAMOUS AND THE DEAD provides a satisfying conclusion to the Charlie Hood series, or story arc, as the case may be. Surely, enough characters are left at the conclusion of the book to provide material for at least another installment or two (or five) should Parker choose to do so. There is one element in the tale that even now makes the follicles on the back of my neck pop as I sit here typing but that I would like to see revisited by Parker at some point down the road (I won’t give it away, but it involves an iron grate and the threat of earthquakes). I don’t believe that I will ever forget it. And neither will you.
I have to tell you that THE FAMOUS AND THE DEAD is not perfect. Parker occasionally veers into political discourse that ultimately distracts from the story, even as he tries to incorporate it into the narrative. This is unfortunate, although Parker’s strong literary craftsmanship and unmatched characterization --- Mike Finnegan may be my favorite literary adversary of all time --- ultimately yank the wheel back and steer the narrative out of the bushes and onto the eight-lane. And while reading the previous volumes will greatly add to your enjoyment of this latest installment, which is supposed to be the grand finale, THE FAMOUS AND THE DEAD can be read and appreciated on its own terms for its own virtues.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 19, 2013