Top positive review
OUTSTANDING SEQUEL TO THE BLUE HOUR, PROVIDES A BUFFET OF THOUGHTS TO PONDER AT NIGHT
Reviewed in the United States on October 28, 2020
MY REVIEW FOUR STARS****
I finished reading this novel in the middle of October, the fall of 2020, and over two decades since the author wrote this second installment of his MERCI RAYBURN book series. A year ago this month I read T. Jefferson Parker's "kick off" to this series, penned in 1999, titled THE BLUE HOUR. It was without question, one of the most outstanding, and certainly the most chilling, serial killer thrillers/police procedurals I have ever read, period. In my opinion it is a timeless classic, and it ranked right up there with such greats as Lawrence Sanders' FIRST DEADLY SIN [dubbed "The most incredibly popular suspense thriller ever written ...the unforgettable story of a ruthless killer with a special hatred for women, and the dedicated cop who vows to track him down ..." It was also the most outstanding "police procedural novel" that I had ever run across at the time. You have to bear in mind that the solitary dogged detective who was methodically and meticulously tracking the (serial killer) in the 1973 classic was handicapped by mind-numbing hours of manually sifting through mountains of paperwork (not to mention an absence of manpower). Computer technology was after all in its infancy and forensic science as we know it today bore little resemblance to what it had become by the dawn of the millennium. Similarly, THE BLUE HOUR (1999) featured two dedicated detectives who were just as compellingly deliberate, plodding, and methodical in their examination and follow up of every single shred of evidence that was available to them. I daresay that it too would stand up against any currently penned police procedural written after its publication 20 years ago.
In THE BLUE HOUR the author also paralleled the genius of Sanders before him in his creation of a fictional serial killer, a sexual sadist who was so authentic, so convincingly real, that when I got into my car at night, dropped down into the driver's seat I actually felt a chill go down by spine. I could all too easily imagine that I was smelling a sweetish fragrance and feeling a breath against my face. This was the second point that the two novels, the first written nearly half a century ago, and the second two decades ago had in common. Both Sanders and Parker wrote convincingly about the reality of police procedurals, and both authors created flesh and blood serial killers whose twisted psyches were fleshed out and believable. I would go out on a limb (but feel safe) in saying that Parker is as skilled in the genre of police procedurals as the highly and widely acclaimed Michael Connelly. Prior to reading THE BLUE HOUR I must admit that when I heard the term "gritty police procedural" I thought of no other author in the same orbit as Connelly (I'm a huge fan of his). Similarly, Thomas Harris is generally considered to be the only true master of creating fictional serial killers who are authentic and genuinely make readers feel the chill. I will say right now that the only author I can think of to compare with Parker's expertise as an author in crafting a genuinely original and frighteningly serial killer IS Thomas Harris.
It would be unfair and also redundant to continue this shameless reiteration of my adoration of THE BLUE HOUR when obviously the task at hand is to offer up an intelligent opinion of its follow up RED LIGHT. That said, I would advise any reader who opens the first page of RED LIGHT to stop before reading the first sentence. That is if he or she has NOT read THE BLUE HOUR. The book picks up a couple of years following the events in THE BLUE HOUR. Our protagonist, Orange County, California Sheriff's Detective Merci Rayburn, is raising Tim, Hess's son, while living with her father. There are numerous references to the first book in general, and specifically
to the horrors that Merci faced which left her both emotionally vulnerable, haunted, and still grieving for Hess in addition to reliving her life-altering mistakes with "The Purse Snatcher".
I am saying that no one should read RED LIGHT in a vacuum. Read the book that introduces Merci Rayburn, and only then in my opinion can a reader possibly comprehend the astonishing character arc of this righteous female cop when she confronts and grapples with the incredible ethical dilemmas and long embedded conspiracies within the very framework of the foundation beneath her feet. Secondly, anyone who passes up reading the first book in the series is really missing a truly outstanding police procedural, serial killer thriller, and psychological suspense filled emotional roller coaster ride.
I was not familiar with T. Jefferson Parker's works prior to 2017, but I must say that he is one of the most incredibly talented authors I've read. His rich characterization, the mastery of the metaphor that he wields in his persuasive prose, his strong and believable dialogue among the cast of colorful characters who populate his novels, but perhaps most of all his unwavering ability to reach me on a visceral and emotional level.
In this follow up novel, Merci finds herself in a tepid relationship with a vice detective in the sheriff's department. She is not "in" love, but cares for (Mile), and cherishes his companionship with her and Tim. It is obvious that Merci is still grieving for Hess two years after his death, and cannot forgive herself for her mistakes. The reader learns about the scars and the fears she carries, the night terrors, and the hard fact that she is no longer the same person that met Hess for the first time in the first novel.
Parker's mastery of the metaphor is almost magical. Merci thinks about her feelings at one point when she is confronted with the unthinkable:
"STRANGE HOW HER HEART FELT THEN, LIKE IT HAD BEEN WRAPPED IN AN IRON BLANKET AND DROPPED OFF THE EDGE OF A SHIP. SHE WALKED OVER AND FACED HIM."
And upon losing respect for Mike:
SHE FELT HER RESPECT FOR MIKE SLIDING AWAY IN HUGE MASSES, LIKE EARTHSLIDES AFTER WEEKS OF RAIN.
Parker is a master of metaphors, his narrative style creates an emotional response in the reader, one which is in tandem with the subject matter--fear, suspense, the whole spectrum of human feelings. He is an incredible talent in the roster of top crime fiction authors writing today.
Merci reflects upon her fears and phobias that were gifts from "The Purse Snatcher":
"MORE LIKE A FREEZING RIVER THAT WOULD TAKE YOU WITH IT, SHUT YOU DOWN, SWEEP YOU UNDER FOREVER WHERE IT WAS TOO COLD AND DARK EVEN TO BREATHE".
When Merci feels that she has betrayed the trust of her friend and lover, and feels shame:
SHE IMAGINED A STAIN STARTING ON HER HEART, SPREADING OUT TO THE END OF THE UNIVERSE AND BEYOND.
Merci's lover Mike is brought in for police interrogation in the death of a call girl:
HIS FACE WAS PALE. HE SAT ON HIS HANDS. HE STARED AT THE CAMERA FOR A LONG BEAT, THEN STUDIED SOMEONE ACROSS THE ROOM FROM HIM WITH A NERVOUS DISDAIN, LIKE A RATTLESNAKE LOOKING UP AT A SHOVEL.
This book is actually emotionally gut-wrenching. I could actually feel Merci's angst and her pain as she frequently pondered and reflected upon the tentacles of residual fear that gripped her, the unending sadness and regret over Hess and the fatal errors she made that cost him his life. The thing is, this book is one outstanding police procedural, crime fiction drama, and a complex, tightly plotted who dunnit. The author gives us a compelling drama on top of the other layers which is simply writing at its best.
Readers will enjoy the murders of two prostitutes that were killed three decades apart, and how their individual stories intertwine in the police departments of Orange County California. Merci is handed a Cold Case circa 1969 when she is simultaneously investigating the shooting of a high priced call girl in present day. Her lover is rather quickly implicated in the present day murder, and she embarks on a course of action that will figuratively and literally tear her world (and those around) apart. This is one outstanding read.
One final point. I really thought about the conclusion long after I had figuratively closed the book (Kindle). No spoilers here. However, I would be interested in how other readers felt about Merci's ultimate course of action. I am left somewhat torn, and I am not sure what that says about me (smile).