Top positive review
A step down from the Charlie Hood series but still much to enjoy
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on November 27, 2019
“The Last Good Guy” by T. Jefferson Parker is the third and probably the last of his Roland Ford series because of the way it ends. This review is really for all three books.
Roland Ford is a former heavyweight boxer whose one professional bout ended in a knockout defeat that left him with a scar that tingles whenever danger approaches. While a soldier, he fought in Iraq, specifically in Fallujah, and saw and experienced more horrific violence than he could have ever imagined, giving him a deep well of pessimism and regret. He was briefly married to his wife, Justine, the daughter of rich parents who bequeathed him and his wife the Rancho de Los Robles in Fallbrook, California as a wedding gift. Justine died in a tragic plane crash a year or so later in her plane, Hall Pass. Having caught the bug of freedom a private plane can provide, Roland purchased another and named it Hall Pass II, using it to fly to various locations in the investigations this series is concerned with.
Ford’s backstory includes his stint in the San Diego Sheriff’s Department where his partner shot and killed a homeless black man, mistaking his wallet for a gun. Roland held fire and his testimony ended his partner’s career, earning him the enmity of the one-time fellow police officers he encounters. This background information is included in each of the three books. While Parker’s writing is very good, I had problems with each of the stories.
In “The Last Good Guy”, Penelope Rideout hires Roland to find her sister, who was seen leaving the site of a murder in the company of members of a mysterious security firm. His investigation takes him to a date farm in the Imperial Valley where he receives a vicious beating at the hands of six heavily armed men who corral him riding ATVs. The rest of the story is about his investigation, Penelope’s changing back-story and the big tent Pastor who’s opened a megachurch near Oceanside.
A truly surprising revelation is made that kicks the story into another gear but when we learn that White Supremacists are the main bad guys, the story veered off the road for me.
We’re treated to a White Supremacist convention where all manner of conspiracy theories and books are for sale, some of them by famous writers (unnamed), and the repulsive beliefs of some of the congregants. This stretched credulity for me and served as a distraction for the rest of the novel. Parker’s writing is strong and the final confrontations are convincing and well written.
Personally, I don’t know any White Supremacists, nor would I have a clue where they might congregate. If I did, I’d avoid them like the plague. My impression of the few meetings of this sort I’m aware of that have been reported in the press, there were more members of the press attending than actual congregants.
The first in the series, “The Room of White Fire”, was concerned with a clandestine government-sponsored torture group that targeted terrorist enemies in Iraq.
The following novel, “Swift Vengeance”, was about a terrorist planning an attack on San Diegans as revenge for his father’s death in Syria at the hands of drone pilot operators in the United States. Much ringing of hands with the finger of guilt pointed at United States Military personnel.
Now I know there are people who will share this moral contempt and he paints his villains as completely contemptuous monsters for the most part. He adds aspects of the compromised characters in “Swift Vengeance” to show them as morally compromised but not evil. Not so the villains in “The Room of White Fire” or “The Last Good Guy”. Whatever shred of decency he might have hinted at matters little at the conclusions.
A positive note are the characters dubbed the Irregulars that stay at the Rancho de Los Robles, rescued by Roland and given a chance to heal. They’re all misfits and yet fit in. One, in particular, is Burt, a man of a mysterious past, a short man, who’s underestimated and always seems to show up at the right time to back Roland Ford up and save his life.
Parker acquitted himself well with his main character, Roland Ford. His back-story is compelling and his interactions with the various characters he comes across are convincing. I read and loved his Charlie Hood series, which is wholly more compelling than this series. He included supernatural elements in that series that were rolled out in a beguiling fashion. The Roland Ford novels contain only a hint of that through the misty character of his dead wife, Justine. The Charlie Hood series was about the gun trade and Mexican cartels and the dangerous characters on both sides of the border. Contemporary and compelling. Roland Ford does misunderstood terrorists, bad Americans and White Supremacists. Some people think White Supremacists are the greatest threat facing society today. I find them marginalized and ridiculous and in far smaller numbers than fear-mongers claim. I’m disappointed that Parker would resort to this sort of villain but much of mainstream entertainment is still obsessed with Hitler’s Germany, the last defeated enemy everyone can agree on. Funny how so many are focused on the past where 20-20 vision is clear, yet see no threats in our current world. White Supremacists may fit in with what’s being taught at the University but they too see it as a systematic rather than an immediate, corporeal threat.
As for “The Last Good Guy’s” villains, Parker failed to provide a compelling back-story for the various racist bad guys other than one of them being caught up in a Boko Haram massacre while he was serving as a Christian missionary in Africa. This unexplained transformation shows undeserved hostility toward Christianity by having him become a racist hater.
Stylistically, Parker avoids the use of the final and in the last of a compound sentence, a choice which does not bother me. His frequent use of sentence fragments also doesn’t bother me. There’s a dreamy quality to his prose, I admire. All three novels are told in the first person, a choice I’ve loved since I discovered Raymond Chandler.