The Famous and the Dead (Charlie Hood Novels) Hardcover – 18 Apr 2013
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About the Author
T. JEFFERSON PARKER is the bestselling and award-winning author of nineteen previous novels and a three-time winner of the Edgar Award. Formerly a journalist, Parker lives with his family in southern California.
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Author Parker has some fine stories to tell, and doesn't need the sci/fi approach to bring them home.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Charlie Hood is a Los Angeles Sheriff's deputy who has been on long term loan to the ATF working as an undercover officer trying to stem the flow of guns, drugs, and money across the US/Mexican border. Bradley Jones, son of Hood's deceased former lover, is also a sheriff's deputy who happens to work both sides of the law as a secret courier for a Mexican drug cartel. And Mike Finnegan is a mysterious figure who periodically appears at opportune times to help or hinder both Hood and Jones but primarily seeks to drive a wedge between them. Who is this mysterious Finnegan who can manipulate and destroy lives and whom Charlie Hood has been seeking for years? These three characters form the core of "The Famous And The Dead" leaving the supporting characters (Beth, Erin, etc.) with small bit roles. There is also a new evil character, Clint Wampler, part of a gang of bad guys selling weapons and missiles, who decides to make the destruction of Charlie Hood his life goal.
But the focus on this culminating story of the Charlie Hood series is the interplay among Charlie, Brad, and Mike in a manner that is calculated to bring closure to all the loose threads and unanswered storylines. As hinted in past Hood novels, the supernatural explodes shockingly into the series and the good v. evil storyline gets even murkier as people change sides as easily as they change their clothing. Charlie is truly up against a seemingly insurmountable foe and is also forced to scramble for his career as damaging evidence is leaked to the authorities. Aside from the sudden revelation of supernatural characters in "The Famous And The Dead", I found most of the narrative to be predictable and sometimes seemingly "forced" to hurry things along. Even the "surprise" ending was easy enough to predict from the clues.
I stayed with Parker and his Charlie Hood series more out of loyalty than out of compelling characters and storylines. Occasionally, there were real nuggets in some of the efforts. However, to end a seven novel series in the manner that Parker did in "The Famous And The Dead" was a disappointment. For loyal readers of the series, there are answers and there are some entertaining and suspenseful moments scattered throughout the novel. Parker is too good to totally disappoint. For this reader, more was expected.
I have two problems with this book. First, Parker has completely abandoned any pretense of a non-occult explanation: these are angels and devils, without question or doubt. I thought it was just too far out there for me in that respect. Second, and even more troubling, is that the overall ending, supposedly wrapping up all of the many story lines in this series, does nothing of the sort. Most importantly, there is no resolution to what happens to Mike. The way this ending is structured feels to me like Parker has left the door ajar for this to in fact not be the final book in the series. Fortunately, the tepid reception this novel is receiving will probably (and hopefully) disabuse him of that notion.
This would have been a two-star review but for Parker's typically beautiful, evocative writing.
The series has received mixed responses. His publisher says that Parker has `obliterated the boundaries of the genre' with the six Charlie Hood novels. Perhaps. Or perhaps he has returned to the genre's roots.
The issues for many readers have included a wide swath of interesting, but very different characters, a set of numerous but frequently-converging plot lines, and something quite unexpected. Is it spiritualism? Is it magic realism? Or does the Charlie Hood saga involve a living, breathing, real-world devil? His name is Mike Finnegan and his devil status is sometimes vague, sometimes more explicit. Perhaps it is simply the result of human perception. Perhaps Mike does not contain super-human power but is simply very, very good at what he does.
In The Famous and the Dead Mike is identified as an actual devil. When we talk about the `iron river' and the flow of guns between the U.S. and the Mexican drug cartels, we might be tempted to talk about `evil' and Satanic monstrousness, but those are often purely metaphoric. Mike is the real deal. And he has imprisoned a sweet angel named Beatrice for 100 years (the maximum period allowed him, a period that is about to expire). Devils like Mike are ten times stronger than humans and while they can feel pain and be physically constrained, they cannot be killed.
Hence Charlie Hood's problems. He is still being betrayed by Bradley Jones; he is still trying to protect Bradley's beloved Erin from Bradley's machinations. Bradley toys with the idea of partnering with Mike and Mike is helping him to bring Charlie to justice, shame and failure. Bradley is still in cahoots with a drug cartel but he wishes to make Erin proud, particularly when she is pregnant with their son, to be called Thomas. Charlie is trying to sustain his relationship with his doctor/lover Beth, but Beth is tiring of his obsessions. The congress is still smarting over the loss of the 1000 Love-32 machine pistols and is looking for a scapegoat (in Charlie's direction). And Joaquin Murrieta's head is still floating in its jar of preservative, though the hair has floated to the bottom and the skull is bare. And people are still doubting that Bradley's mother Suzanne could have been related to Joaquin. That would be the Suzanne who was the love of Charlie's life.
Plus, we've got a psychologically-challenged individual who Mike is grooming to kill a public official and three thugs from Missouri who have a contact at Ft. Pendleton who is stealing Stinger missiles for them to sell to one of the Mexican cartels. Plus a brutalized former girlfriend of their leader, another person needing Charlie's protection.
Thus, we have the normal doings along the iron river, with both public and private plots/subplots and a now very active devil named Mike.
Having said that, let me quickly add that the novel is very easy to follow and that the characters are engaging, their plights very important to the reader. The novel achieves a succession of very satisfying conclusions and resolves all of its central issues. I liked it very much.
But what of the devil (and the angel, Beatrice, and her likely fellow angel, Joan)? In some ways this really does blur the lines of genre. When was the last time an actual devil or angel made an appearance in a crime novel?
On the other hand, this is utterly faithful to genre, in that crime fiction emerges from chivalric romance (as Chandler was at pains to demonstrate) and in chivalric romance there are all manner of supernatural characters--crones, necromancers, wizards, dragons, et al. (T. Jefferson) Parker very shrewdly humanizes them. As in Spenser (Edmund, not Bob Parker's Spenser) where we are putatively in the world of allegory, with hyper-stylized landscape, etc., the characters are presented in very human terms. Here, poor Beatrice has been imprisoned in a mine shaft for 90+ years. The world has passed her by. The fastest she's ever traveled in a car is 27 mph. And when she is released she has a tremendous appetite. She wants to drive fast and she wants to go to the grocery store. At one wonderful moment she asks one of the human characters, "Can I ride up front?"
And so, the bottom line for me is that the novel worked. It worked very nicely and I'm anxious to see where Jeff Parker goes next.