Maybe it's just me, but I think I've spotted a trend that's been taking shape over the past few months. A great author, with several really good books already published, drops a new one on the reading public that is light years beyond his previous work. Michael Connelly did it with A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT; Dennis Lehane did the same thing with MYSTIC RIVER. There are others, too, that you could name quicker than I can. But you get the idea. Well, here comes another one.
T. Jefferson Parker's name is probably on a lot of what I call "get to" lists. He's got a good reputation; his books look great at first glance, and get even better when you sit down and read one of the bad boys; and as his reputation builds (and builds and builds), readers recommend him to other readers, who put him on...the "get to" list. Once they read one of his books, they're going to hit the backlist and wait for the new one. The "new one" is entitled SILENT JOE. It's going to take Parker off of the "get to" list and put him on the "must get" list.
SILENT JOE is Joe Trona, an enigmatic Orange County Deputy Sheriff with more backstory than he would care to have. Trona, bearing horrible facial scars, which he sustained as an infant, was adopted by Will and Mary Trona at the age of five. Trona Senior went on to become a corrupt Orange County politician, administering rough justice in a Robin Hood manner by steadfastly refusing to color within the lines. Joe became a sheriff by day and his father's right hand man by night, accompanying him on various errands, occasionally of unknown purpose, and becoming known for his silent bearing and quiet strength as much as for his facial scarring. When Will Trona is murdered before Joe's eyes during the course of one such errand, Joe becomes a quiet but steadfast and relentless force in his effort to discover who did it and to bring them to justice. Trona, in the course of his investigation, discovers much about his father --- and about himself --- that he never knew. Some illusions are shattered but, ultimately, make Trona stronger.
SILENT JOE is not so much a mystery as a character study. Though the plot is intricate and complex, longtime readers of this genre will, I think, predict fairly easily how the primary and secondary plots will play out. Joe Trona, however, is such a strongly developed and multilayered character that I doubt that they will care. Parker very subtly presents Trona as a man who is constantly on the edge, who nonetheless has had a lifetime of experience in maintaining internal self-control. Parker does not like to resurrect characters in subsequent novels --- he has done it only once, to my knowledge --- but hopefully he will see fit to revisit the world of Joe Trona. Trona is a unique character in a genre given over to stereotype. Seeing him once is a blessing, but it is not enough.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 25, 2001