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Strong As Steel


Strong As Steel

STRONG AS STEEL, the 10th book featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong, begins with a bang --- literally. The first passage, set in the year 1959, sees the freighter ship Dolunay enter the Port of Ordu, Turkey, and slam into the pier. The worst part is not that the ship ignored all warnings from the Port, but that it did not have a single living person aboard upon its arrival.

All of these novels are firmly linked to events in the past, some of which involve Caitlin's father, Jim, who was also a Texas Ranger. Land always provides a quote that mirrors Caitlin's mission. This time it’s from Marge Piercy, who says, “A strong woman is a woman determined to do something others are determined not to be done.” This pretty much sums up Caitlin’s intestinal fortitude and tenacity.

In 1964, a young Mexican girl witnesses her father being shot to death at his own wedding, a tragedy that will play a major role in the present-day plot. The story involving Jim Strong is set in 1994, where we find him and his partner (and Caitlin's present-day Captain), D.W. Tepper, in Pecos County, Texas, investigating a handful of dead bodies, some out in the open and others inside an empty railroad car that arrived from Mexico.

"STRONG AS STEEL is, quite simply, unputdownable, and Jon Land keeps readers regularly off their feet with plot twists and revelations you will never see coming."

Caitlin is summoned to the Chase Tower in Dallas, where a company called CTP --- Communications Technology Providers --- is wiped out by what looks like a terrorist attack. She bumps into a man she knows only as “Jones” who works with Homeland Security. He won't reveal much information but does let her know that the employees of CTP were on his payroll. He describes the situation as a Zero Footprint Operation but is no more forthcoming than that label.

Another flashback to 1994 finds Jim and Tepper traveling to Chihuahua, Mexico, to face off against the vicious and deadly Luna Diaz Delgado, aka the “Red Widow.” Further passages will reveal that the Red Widow is the same individual who witnessed her father's murder at his wedding. I won't go any further as we also have the opportunity to see her teaming up with Caitlin on a mission that is bound to all of these past events.

Meanwhile, Caitlin's current ex-con boyfriend, Cort Wesley Masters, has teamed up with Jones for a separate assignment that is all tied to the same big-picture mission that Caitlin is investigating. They are sent to the CDC in Atlanta, GA, to look into the possibility of a deadly pathogen being involved in a series of unsolved deaths. One of the many things I love about this series is Land's use of secondary characters. In his hands, they are not mere caricatures but living, breathing, complex people. Cort is regularly visited by the ghost of his old friend, Leroy Epps, and their discussions are always engaging. This calls to mind Charles Todd’s Inspector Ian Rutledge novels, in which Rutledge is constantly conversing with the ghost of a WWI colleague, Hamish MacLeod.

Another pivotal character is Cort's son, Dylan, who we have seen grow up throughout the course of the series and has been involved in tragic circumstances that have shaped who he is. He provides his father and the mission with assistance in deciphering the markings on the ancient crate found on the train with all of the unexplained corpses. It turns out to be not a crate or a box but an ossuary, which literally translates as a depository for the bones of the dead. Once the translation is complete, Dylan interprets the language to be claiming this ossuary contains the bones of Jesus Christ. Caitlin comes to the same conclusion once she meets up with the Red Widow in Mexico. Both Caitlin and Cort are highly skeptical of this interpretation and feel strongly that it is a ruse to keep them from finding out what is really at play.

STRONG AS STEEL is, quite simply, unputdownable, and Jon Land keeps readers regularly off their feet with plot twists and revelations you will never see coming. This series seems to get better and better, and each entry finds a new adversary that has not only local but global consequences as their end game. What I respect most about Land, and what sets him apart from other prolific writers who spin out endless titles just to see their name on some bestseller list, is that his stories are all fully realized, intricately plotted and always suspenseful.

In addition to these outstanding books, Land has ventured into a writing partnership with bestselling author Heather Graham that produced the terrific YA thriller THE RISING. The biggest risk he has taken, and one that Sophie Hannah surely felt when she took on the task of continuing Dame Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels, is his venture that finds him as the new voice of the immortal “Murder, She Wrote” star, Jessica Fletcher. He has taken that series in new directions that easily could have fallen flat on longtime readers. Instead, the risk has paid off as he has breathed new life into these iconic mysteries.

Notwithstanding all of this recent success, there is no substitute for the Caitlin Strong novels, which feel like coming home for Jon Land. As the saying goes, “There's no place like home.”

Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 26, 2019

Strong As Steel
by Jon Land

  • Publication Date: April 23, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Forge Books
  • ISBN-10: 0765384671
  • ISBN-13: 9780765384676