It’s hard for me to pick a favorite T. Jefferson Parker
book. I tend to favor his later novels, such as SILENT JOE and COLD
PURSUIT. Yet occasionally I wonder if he’ll ever top LAGUNA
HEAT or LITTLE SAIGON. More often than not, however, my favorite
Parker title is his latest one. Such is the case with L.A. OUTLAWS,
a work that is --- dare I say it? --- perfect from beginning to
One is always just a bit off balance when reading a Parker novel.
His method of eschewing series books for independent, stand-alone
works leaves the reader with more-than-vague expectations as to
what will take place. This has never been more true than in L.A.
OUTLAWS, which matches a modern-day female bandit against --- and
deliciously with --- Charlie Hood, a troubled L.A. County rookie
deputy sheriff. The bandit, who calls herself Allison Murrieta,
claims to be the direct descendent of a 19th-century California
bandito who may or may not have existed, and is as
self-assured as Hood is insecure.
An Iraqi war veteran who left the service with unfinished business,
Hood is unknowingly drawn into Murrieta’s world when he
stumbles upon the aftermath of a gang transaction gone terribly
wrong, which has left nine gang members and one civilian dead. It
is Murrieta who comes in and picks up the spoils --- a small
fortune in jewels --- and Hood who unknowingly and unwittingly
stops her after the fact in her persona of Suzanne Jones, a history
teacher who is as charismatic as she is enigmatic. Hood senses that
Jones knows more than she’s telling, and pursues her both
professionally and romantically, even as he’s aware that
he’s endangering his investigation on the one hand and
risking heartbreak on the other. Jones/Murrieta, for her part, does
a dangerous dance, pursued by Lupercio, a hit man, and The Bull,
his enigmatic boss, relying on herself for protection even as she
seduces Hood and gives herself over to the relationship.
From beginning to end, Parker keeps things moving in a number of
different directions at once, though his story never gets muddled,
bogged down or confused in any way. He somehow manages to keep the
different plotlines equally interesting, switching among them at
irregular intervals so that the reader does not --- cannot ---
become bored even for a moment. And Parker, though two decades into
his writing career, can still turn unforgettable phrases. Consider
the simile he introduces a little less than one-third of the way
into the book, the one dealing with the tornadoes (you’ll
know it when you read it). It is perfect, and sticks in the mind
long after the last page is turned.
Parker could have ended the book in several different ways. He
chose a bittersweet conclusion with a twist or two that, like the
rest of the story, was somewhat unexpected and haunting. And I
don’t mind telling you that it was a day or two before I
could read anything else. L.A. OUTLAWS is an outstanding novel from
an author with a groaning shelf full of them.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 30, 2010