I was surprised and not so surprised that T. Jefferson Parker brought back Merci Rayborn. After all, the ending for the book that introduced her, THE BLUE HOUR all but demanded that she return.
In this book, Merci is two years older and still mourning the loss of her partner (and father to her son) Tim Hess. She has named her little boy after his father and is now involved with another detective sergeant on the Orange County (CA) Sheriff's department, Mike McNally.
Parker provides the reader with a multi-leveled mystery and police procedure novel that uses spare but biting prose to make its point. In this story, Merci Rayborn, a single mother and crack homicide investigator is involved in two homicide investigations. One is current and may involve her fellow officer and lover, Mike McNally and the other is over thirty years old and involves the murder of a prostitute who had had connections with local political and law enforcement officials.
In the more recent of the murder cases, Merci initially investigates the death of another young prostitute, this one who also had conections, but those closer to home. Initial evidence begins to point to Merci's erstwhile lover and would-be husband. Merci, never one to shy away from pursuing justice or the truth follows the trail of evidence with a dedication bordering on fanatical. More and more, the evidence points at Mike McNally. But is he really the killer or is he being framed? And if so, by whom?
I have read almost all of Parker's previous novels and have enjoyed them all. His common denominator is the setting, Orange County, CA. However, with each new book installment, he shows that he has climbed rapidly into the ranks of true masters in this genre. He is spare with his prose and in this he makes me think of what Hemingway would have been like had he written mysteries and police stories. He gives us flawed but interesting characters. Some we come to like and have hopes for and others we don't. I have to say that I did NOT like Merci Rayborn when I read THE BLUE HOUR. But perhaps motherhood, the loss of Tim Hess and the personal and political problems she faces in the Sheriff's Department have mellowed her to the point that she has become more human and less disagreeable. In RED LIGHT, for all of her flaws and self-doubts, Parker has made her a much more agreeable and yes, a more sympathetic character.
This book has some slow points and then, the plot and the level of action pick up. I do not know if this was a deliberate device by Parker or not but either way, the book does become a page turner. When Merci must decide for herself whether Mike McNally is guilty or being framed is where the book really took off. It is where I knew that Parker had planned and timed the story line for just such a reason.
Parker's intimate knowledge of police procedures is displayed at its best in this novel. His former career as a journalist and his extensive background in the history of Orange County also serve him well in RED LIGHT. Although this is the first time that he has used a recurring character, I hope it will not be his last. Merci Rayborn still has a lot to say and I hope Mr. Parker will let her speak in upcoming works.
Thank you Mr. Parker for many hours of enjoyable reading. I hope you won't dispense with Merci Rayborn just yet. I'd like to think of her as your version of Robert B. Parker's SPENSER. And we all know how many novels he has mined from that character. I look forward with anticipation to your next novel and hope that we will all see one or more adapted for the screen.