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    Review of THE BORDER LORDS by T. Jefferson Parker


    Dutton, January 2011

    Charlie Hood and his fellow ATF agents are shaken out of boredom when a surveillance camera goes black and they find the drug cartel gunmen murdered. Hood doesn't want to believe his friend, undercover agent Sean Ozburn has gone rogue, but the evidence allows no other interpretation. Getting together with Ozburn's wife only adds to his confusion. Ozburn has been acting strangely since an illicit trip to Central America where he fell in with a mysterious priest and decided he needed to do something different, something wonderful, something that reached beyond his ATF activities. Along with his dog, Ozburn is off on a one-man rampage through the Mexican drug cartels--but the whole thing feels wrong to Hood. That isn't the Sean he knew. Something deeper than a frustration with the law is involved. His feelings grow when Sean forces a priest to baptize his dog--at gunpoint.

    Meanwhile, Hood's friend, Bradley Jones, a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff, delivers drug money from California to the Baja cartel and uses his cartel contacts to advance his career. For his first day on patrol, Jones rescues a child kidnapped by the Gulf Cartel, a rival to the Baja. When the cartel tells him that Sean Ozburn is managing a gun deal, he sees another chance to advance his career--but Ozburn is a lot more dangerous than a typical gunman. For the first time, Jones's ambition begins to conflict with his love for his wife.

    Author T. Jefferson Parker (see more reviews of novels by Parker)continues his strange but powerful Charlie Hood series with the fourth book. Things are crumbling around Hood. One friend has flipped out. Another friend pretends to be a good cop but obviously is walking the criminal road. Hood's relationship with his girlfriend is troubled by the limited time they spend together--and by the dangers of Hood's life. Still, Hood believes that he's doing something worthwhile. As an ATF agent, he's attempting to limit the flow of weapons between the US and Mexico where American guns make the cartel gunmen effectively more powerful than the Mexican armed forces.

    Hood recognizes that this is a battle that cannot be won. The bankrupt "war on drugs" provides so much money to the cartels that they'll always be able to equip themselves, bribe Mexican authorities, and increasingly take over even US neighborhoods. Now, they've even begun local manufacture of effective automatic weapons, raising the threat level.

    Parker introduces a magical element in the form of Finnegan, a man who claims to be a demon, who might actually be a demon, and who has tempted both Jones and Ozburn into self-destructive behavior. Hood doesn't want to believe that Finnegan truly is a demon, but he seems to know more than any human possibly could. The introduction of magical elements into a gritty mystery/thriller is a strange choice, but Parker makes it work. Finnegan's actions increasingly cut Hood off from his allies and friends, forcing him into a moral isolation that can't be comfortable and that is clearly building to an internal crisis of confidence for Hood himself.

    THE BORDER LORDS isn't for everyone. Parker is at the peak of his form and success and is experimenting with his art, giving the reader a different way of seeing the world. Hood and the reader have to recognize that his actions are ultimately futile, that the 'war on drugs' will continue to destroy both American and Mexican society and continue to empower the most evil people on both sides of the border. Yet, Hood (and the reader) have to choose between taking advantage of the evil (as Jones does), trying to use its own tools against it (as Ozburn does), or preserving his integrity in a world that has little use for those with integrity. Mystery readers are typically conservative, reading mystery for the implicit message that the sleuth has righted wrongs and set the world safely back on track. Parker violates this author/reader implicit agreement for the sake of his art. For me, this works.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 6/24/11

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