Jeff Parker’s territory is Orange County, California, a burgeoning expanse of suburban sprawl and a developer’s dream come true, Chinatown, as it were, without the Chinatown. In Silent Joe, Parker goes underneath the shiny surface of his home turf, and starts to scrape away at the nasty underside which hides from the bright light of the sunny California day. In Joe Trona, the adopted son of an Orange County politician and fixer, he has created a strange amalgam of a lead character through whom to do this scraping away. As Will Trona’s driver, bodyguard, and gopher, Joe has sat by silently, watching everything Will does, seeing both the good and bad sides of the man. He may not know exactly where the bodies are buried, but he knows there are some bodies out there. Joe’s role winds up seeming a lot like Ned Beaumont’s in The Glass Key, except he becomes a manipulator only when he’s forced to by the circumstances of his mentor’s death. But Joe is also a badly scarred victim of childhood abuse, which led to his being put up for adoption in the first place. As if being groomed for his role, he has developed himself into a perfect kind of fighting machine, with his feelings buried deep where they will not interfere with his functioning. In some ways, this makes things too easy for Parker when it comes time for the denouement, although he tries hard to humanise Joe, and that is a large part of the story. He’s always in danger of becoming a kind of Remo Williams with a brain, despite Parker’s own writing skill. In the end, that writing enables Parker to walk the tightrope and get off on the other side. What is most fascinating in his last few books has been the way the police themselves have been shown to acquire inordinate political power in Orange County, as if they were the glue that held the disparate communities, without a real centre, together. Joe Trona is in some ways the perfect child of that community, and this book is all the more impressive for that.

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