Strong Darkness: A Caitlin Strong Novel
"Justice may be blind, sir, but she's not stupid."
Neither is the protagonist of Jon Land's new novel, STRONG DARKNESS. Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong has long been one of the best written female characters in the action/thriller genre, and this latest effort may be her most daunting test yet.
As with all the books in the Caitlin Strong series, this one opens with a trip back into history. Specifically, Texas Ranger history, whereby Caitlin's own grandfather, William Ray Strong, made his mark with this proud group of law enforcers. The time is 1883, and Strong finds himself teamed with the famous judge Roy Bean (you may fondly recall the depiction of Bean in the film version of his life starring Paul Newman). The two of them are on the hunt for a brutal serial killer who has been murdering and mutilating young Asian women --- decapitating them, followed by sewing the heads back on their bodies backwards.
"I defy any reader to resist the temptation of reading STRONG DARKNESS in one sitting. The superb blending of historical fact and fiction is seamless, and there is not a single wasted plot element in the story."
Land always does a brilliant job of tying the past to the present, and never has it been done as effectively as in STRONG DARKNESS. No stone is left unturned, and nearly every chapter, set both in past and present, provides clues as to where the two stories are going. In present day, our tale opens with Caitlin having to deal with a radical religious group protesting across the street from a funeral of a local boy who died heroically fighting for his country in war. The way Caitlin “legally” deals with the group is quite amusing, and I found myself cheering.
Fresh off of dealing with this crisis, Caitlin is faced with another of a far more personal nature. Dylan, the son of her boyfriend Cort, is brutally attacked outside a bar in Providence, Rhode Island, near where he attends Brown University. Caitlin flies there to join Cort, and they begin to piece together what happened. Having no faith in the local authorities, who have a checkered history with Caitlin and Cort, they find their investigation to be a difficult one.
It turns out Dylan was meeting with an Asian girl at the time he was attacked. Allegedly, this same young lady appeared in some viral porn videos that had traveled the college circuit as well as social media. Further attempts are made on Dylan's life, including what looks like members of the Chinese mafia Triad squad coming after him in his hospital room. When Dylan fully recovers, he tells his father that the Asian girl was named Kai and she was delivering a message of warning for both Cort and Caitlin about events that were transpiring in Texas.
Meanwhile, back in Texas, a new serial killer has been murdering and decapitating victims followed by the same amateur surgical procedure that befell the female Asian victims back in William Ray Strong's day. A highly innovative Chinese company, Yuyuan, may be at the center of these activities. Their CEO, a suspicious gentleman named Li Zhen, not only has an old vendetta to settle but also may possess technology that could wipe out 80 percent of the U.S. population.
Coming to Caitlin and Cort's aid, as always, is the nearly seven-foot-tall Guillermo Paz. This mysterious individual has worked both sides of the law and most recently was employed as a special projects member of Homeland Security. Paz is one of the most interesting characters in this series as he is not only an expert in existential philosophy --- with Kierkegaard being a personal favorite --- but is also subject to occasional prophetic visions. He has a startling vision in this story, one that involves Caitlin, her family and a lot of “darkness.”
While her grandfather failed to apprehend the serial killer he and Bean were after, Caitlin desperately tries not to make the same mistakes with her case. This will involve her operating off the grid at times and flying in the face of the U.S. government, as well as her own commander of the Texas Rangers.
Things all come together in a stunning climax, and I defy any reader to resist the temptation of reading STRONG DARKNESS in one sitting. The superb blending of historical fact and fiction is seamless, and there is not a single wasted plot element in the story. I particularly enjoyed the 1883 storyline that involved the Trans-Pecos rail line --- highly reminiscent of the AMC series “Hell On Wheels.” I just love Caitlin Strong and would want her on my side in any battle. Jon Land finishes with an Author's Note that indicates the next adventure involving Caitlin will be 2015's STRONG LIGHT OF DAY. I eagerly await the opportunity to spend more time with Ms. Strong and company.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on October 3, 2014