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Parker succeeds again with ‘The Renegades’

  T. Jefferson Parker has been writing for nearly two decades, and I’ve enjoyed every single one of his novels, though some perhaps more than others. I happen to believe that “Silent Joe” is still his best novel to date, but “L.A. Outlaws” and “The Renegades” definitely tie for second place.
  “The Renegades” is Parker’s newest hardcover novel and brings back Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Charlie Hood, who first appeared in “L.A. Outlaws.” Still recovering from his tragic love affair with outlaw Alison Murietta and the arrest of a crooked cop, Hood has been reassigned to Antelope Valley, where he patrols the lonely roads by himself at night. He doesn’t mind. Hood likes being alone and driving for long periods of time. Everything, however, changes on the night he’s partnered with Deputy Terry Laws and they have to investigate the report of drug use and loud music at a housing project with a couple of employees from the Housing Authority. It turns out to be a setup for Laws’ murder.  While Laws is sitting in the patrol car, the assailant appears from nowhere and kills him with a machine gun. Hood barely manages to survive the onslaught, and it makes him downright angry that he couldn’t prevent the killing of another police officer.
  Hood is determined to find his partner’s killer, and Internal Affairs taps him to help with the investigation. They want him to find out why Laws was executed and if there’s anything in the dead officer’s past to warrant his death. It doesn’t take Hood long to find out that Terry Laws was living well beyond his means. In fact, he was bringing home an extra $7,000 a week. This fact leads Hood to take a closer look at Laws’ former partner, a reservist named Coleman Draper, who’s handsome, intelligent, polite, and also one the most evil men Hood has ever encountered. Draper, who might have murdered his parents and siblings in a house fire years before, has a unique way of manipulating those around him in order to get what he wants. He talked Laws into killing two drug couriers so that they could take their spots and make some real money.
  Hood is going to have his hands full once Draper realizes that he’s under suspicion. It’s going to be a cat-and-mouse game with the loser paying the ultimate price — death.
  Parker, like authors Michael Connelly and Robert Crais, knows the Los Angeles County area like the back of his hand and brings it alive with his magical prose, enabling the reader to feel as if he’s actually there in sunny Southern California, dodging bullets. Parker also creates interesting characters, especially the villains, who always seem to breath and live like people in the real world. They’re always human with chinks in their personalities. Even the secondary characters are well-drawn and never boring. This is what makes Parker’s novels such a treat to read. He takes you into L.A. or Orange County, and you get to ride with the police for a few days to find out what life is really like in the underbelly of society. And, the heroes are people with everyday problems just like you and me, so they never step into the realm of not being believable. 
  All of this makes “The Renegades” an enjoyable read and Charlie Hood a character you’d like to see more of, especially with one of Parker’s earlier characters — Joe Trona, who appeared in “Silent Joe,” which I consider to be the author’s best novel to date. Here’s why:
  In “Silent Joe,” the reader is introduced to Joe Trona (aka the Acid Baby), a deputy for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, a bodyguard for his adoptive father, Will, and a man who was horribly disfigured by his real father as an infant. Needless to say, Joe has had to overcome adversity on a day-to-day basis. He’s smart, tough, a trained martial artist, and a crack shot with a .45 automatic. He also deeply loves his adoptive father and would put his life on the line in a heartbeat to save him, if it ever came down to that — and it does.
  Will Trona, a powerful commissioner for Orange County, has made a lot of friends over the years, but he’s also made a large number of very bad enemies. On one dark, foggy night, while acting as a go-between to help rescue a   kidnapped girl who comes from a wealthy and influential family, Will is set up to be killed. Joe, who’s chauffeuring for his father that night, watches it happen, but is unable to do anything to save the man who raised him and loved him as few parents could. He does manage, however, to take out two of the killers before the head honcho in the group murders the rest of his own men and then swiftly disappears into the night. 
  From that moment on, Joe’s only goal is to find out why Will was set up and then to put down the men behind the assassination. Over the next few weeks, as Joe starts checking into his adoptive father’s past, he discovers things that surprise and shock him, things that would’ve been better if left alone. He also begins to get an inkling of who might’ve wanted to murder Will and the scope of the conspiracy. At first the people behind Will’s death try to buy Joe off in an attempt to make him back away from his investigation, then he’s given an abrupt warning as to what the future holds if he doesn’t stop what he’s doing. Joe Trona, however, knows no fear, until the woman he has quickly grown to love is threatened. The only way out of the situation is to confront the danger head on. This is a man who always carries three .45 caliber handguns on his person and can kill with his bare hands in a dozen different ways. It’s going to take a lot of firepower and a high body count to stop him from settling his vendetta against those who brought tragedy to his family and now threaten the people he loves. 
  “Silent Joe” is definitely Parker’s best novel in my opinion and that’s saying a lot when you consider the fabulous body of work he’s written over the past 16 years. He’s created a powerful character in Joe Trona, a man with his own inner demons to fight, a man who the reader immediately starts rooting for from page one. As Joe seeks to avenge his father, he soon realizes that the person he loved was simply a man with his own strengths and weaknesses. Joe still has to find a way to accept the frailties of Will Trona, while acknowledging the good that he was able to do for his community before dying. Deep within, however, Joe has a desperate urgency to finally understand who his real parents were and why his actual father threw acid onto his face and his mother later abandoned him. These are painful questions that have been kept buried for too long and now need to be brought to the surface. The answers may bring understanding, but they won’t ease the turmoil that has made up Joe’s life for so long.
  “Silent Joe” is what great writing is all about. The author knows how to deliver the goods with a compelling plot and strong, believable characters. I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Joe Trona. I’d love to see him return in a another novel, maybe even joining forces with Merci Rayborn from “Red Light” and “The Blue Hour,” or Charlie Hood from “L.A. Outlaws” and “The Renegades.” This is a character who’s too good to limit to just one novel. He deserves more, so here’s a plea to Parker: Bring Joe back!

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