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T. Jefferson Parker
Iron River
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

New American Library / Penguin Putnam
USA Trade Paperback Reprint
ISBN 978-0-451-23242-7
Publication Date: 01-04-2011
388 pages, $14
Date Reviewed: 01-06-2011, 02-12-2011

Index:  Mystery


Chances are there are guns in your future. Lots of guns. Guns make money, and help those who hold them wield power. If you're lucky, then the guns in your future are in 'Iron River' (New American Library / Penguin Putnam ; Jan 4, 2010 ; $14) by T. Jefferson Parker, now out in a trade paperback reprint. I'd never read Parker until now, and I'm glad I finally did. This lurid-looking novel is an over-the-top kick that goes places you would not expect a hard-boiled mystery novel to travel. These are places that you, the reader, will hope you never have to visit beyond doing so in the printed page. But as a reading experience, 'Iron River' really is a ride, one of those books that will tempt you to look ahead and try to see the future. You can't, so don't bother. Best read the book.

'Iron River' is the third Charlie Hood novel, after 'L. A. Outlaws,' and 'The Renegades.' The fourth novel in the series, 'The Border Lords,' is due out next week. Readers know I rarely jump in mid-series, and I probably would not have here, but I liked the cheesy format of the book and sat down with it, only to look up hours later, wondering if I was soaked in blood.

Jefferson is a smart, entertaining writer who quickly draws you in to a story of guns, technology, and perhaps just a little something more than most of us are able to know. The story fires off with murder in the desert, then Charlie Hood on the roof of Guns a Million, working with the ATF to try to staunch the flow of guns between Mexico and the US. Next we meet Ron Pace, a man who makes guns, and has in fact made a better gun than really ever needed to be made. Assuming it works, of course. He's beyond bankruptcy, and hoping the newer better gun will bring him back. Of course, the man he is selling it to has plans that don’t involve big-game hunting. Then things get complicated.

Parker's talent for character and voice enable him to present us with a gallery of people we'd pray never to meet beyond the pages of a book. But in that book, in this book, we're happy to see these trigger-happy murderous deceptive drug-selling psychos take on one another and the ATF, with Charlie Hood's help. Charlie is not well set to deal with the passel of problems coming his way, but seeing his competent, low-key approach unfold against men who love to kill for the fun — and profit — of it is truly engaging. Dialogue, voice and prose for each of the characters we meet ensures that we want to hear what they have to say and see what fairly insane thing they are going to do the next time they show up.

Matching Parker's prose and characterization is his ability to weave a very complicated plot and render it comprehensible while staging scenes of action that play out easily in our reading experience. From the roof of the Guns a Million to the penthouse suite above the gun factory, Parker knows his sleazy southern California well. No matter where you sit as you read, you'll smell the exhaust of the cars and squint at the smogified sunlight. Parker doesn't just shoot them up, however; there's a nice sense of balance in what unfolds.

Even though I hadn't read the first two entries in the series, I had no problem stepping in where I did. That said, I now plan on going back to the first book, and look forward to the forthcoming hardcover. Parker has a fantastic sense of plot, of place and of people — so smart, and so well-written, in fact, that it hardly matters that none of the above are anything you'd want to experience, anywhere you'd want to be or anyone you’d want to meet. Let T. Jefferson Parker introduce you in prose. Best to meet the guns in your future — and hope they don’t show up elsewhere.


When we use the word "character" in reference to a novel, it is usually assumed that we're talking about animate beings, generally people. If the setting of a novel is rich enough and plays a crucial part in the plot and characterization, then location, or place can also be referred to as a character.

T. Jefferson Parker's 'Iron River,' (New American Library / Penguin Putnam ; Jan 4, 2010 ; $14) which is compelling enough to be worth a second look, offers a new twist on character. In Parker's latest Charlie Hood novel, you'll find the first gun that can truly qualify as a character. Ladies and gentlemen, readers of all stripes, I'd like to introduce you to the Love 32.

'Iron River' is the Jefferson's third novel to feature Charlie Hood, an LA Deputy Sherriff who is working with the ATFE to slow down the flow of guns crossing back and forth over the border between Mexico and the United States. I read it about a month ago, and went back for a second round before I start 'Border Lords.' 'Iron River' is good enough to warrant two readings, with a taut plot and a dark vision of the undeclared war raging at our borders. Parker, who turns an inanimate piece of weaponry into a compelling character, is clearly going to be on the winning side of any conflict he enters.

'Iron River' is a complex machine itself, and it needs to be. Hood and his ATFE team are trying to trace illegal gun shipments when they find themselves in a firefight with an unfortunate outcome, the death of a bystander. The blowback from this will force Hood, his team and ultimately the United States to take a close look at the Border War that spills back and forth between Mexico and the United States. Bradley Jones, the son of Alison Murrieta/Suzanne Jones, one of Hood's past criminal pursuits, is trying to buy guns, and meets Ron Pace, who is trying to sell them. Pace is something of a prodigy, the youngest son of a gun-making family that has gone out of business due to a lawsuit. Now Ron Pace sits around the empty warehouse, thinking, inventing. And thus we are introduced to the most unusual character in this novel, the Love 32.

Parker's treatment of this weapon and its creation are brilliant. From the moment Ron Pace first reveals it, from the moment we see it become what it can become, we're actually rooting for it to do its thing — kill, lots of people, quickly and thoroughly and excitingly. It's beautiful and deadly, utterly compelling. 'Iron River' is a novel where readers will actually want the guns to win.

Parker does not stop with the Love 32, however. He also introduces readers to Mike Finnegan, who tells lies that are so compelling, they obviously must be untrue in a naturalistic novel. But nonetheless, we want to believe Finnegan's narrative and his story. Charlie Hood is not so sure. But Finnegan's information is helpful even when it is unbelievable.

Parker builds a big picture with lots of quickly moving parts in 'Iron River.' It's easy to read but creates a convincing, complex vision of the full-blown undeclared war that is currently tearing apart Mexico. In a very understated — but, counter-intuitively over-the-top manner, it is a very political novel with a strong statement. The Love 32 stands at the center of that statement and at the center of this novel. It defines itself. It is the son of the son of man, and it is born with but one purpose, to kill men. 'Iron River' leaves many characters alive, some undamaged and the reader with a residual thirst for blood, for more books and more insights into our Border War. Parker's novels seem to be a particularly good place to find that insight, to meet the dangerous characters. The weapons will step to the center of the stage.

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