It is spring in Fallbrook, Calif., the sweet breeze season. Fruit tree blossoms fill the air with the anticipation of nectarous things to come. Songbirds do violent battle over choice aeries. Scarlet camellias bloom, then drop blood petals to the ground. And into this convergence of life and death and nature’s magic, Fallbrook author T. Jefferson Parker launches his new crime thriller, The Famous and the Dead, the sixth and final novel in his bestselling Charlie Hood series.
Parker will be discussing and signing The Famous and the Dead at Fallbrook’s Writers Read, 6 p.m. on Friday, April 19, at the Café des Artistes, and his books will be available for purchase.
Like Fallbrook’s natural cycles, the Charlie Hood series was conceived, developed and thrived in a fertile ground, that of the author’s imagination—but certainly not in a sociopolitical void. The novels reflect the varied landscapes—the sere desert, urban dismay and decay, lush jungles, Beltway politics, extravagant drug cartel violence, the illegal gun trade—that propel dedicated and deadly characters headlong into the critical space bordering Mexico and the United States.
“The series started with Charlie Hood being a sheriff’s deputy, six years ago,” Parker recounted. “My books became more topical and more political as the series progressed. By the time I wrote The Famous and the Dead, I was dealing directly with various things: the Fast and Furious debacle for ATF, lunatics with guns and large capacity magazines, the Tucson shooting. It’s slightly prophetic. I think it echoes the devastation in Newtown, even though the novel was written long before it happened. I didn’t set out to be political, I don’t have specific axes to grind, but I do know a line of bulls–t when I hear it. I hope the book is intelligent in the way it deals with those things. I hope the book takes those things seriously, without being preachy or overly fear mongering.”
The Famous and the Dead is not at all preachy, and it is certainly as intelligent and thrilling as Parker’s readers expect, but it is also, in the end, a fond farewell to a character who grew into a wonderfully conflicted human, the beloved Charlie Hood—not his mourning, but a wake. Indeed, a celebration of Parker’s writing at its best, an intriguingly cross-genre thriller, with the heart and soul of a literary treatment of compelling moral conflict.
“I’ve always enjoyed looking at life as kind of a battle between good and evil. I like that. I like the idea that there’s good in the world and evil in the world and they butt heads. I thought it might be good to give evil a face and a body, and incorporate that in the books. Mike [Finnegan, a recurring antagonist] is a literal devil, and he plays a big, messy part in this series. I thought he would be a useful and wonderful literary conceit, a character by whom readers would be abhorred, tickled and perhaps a little surprised.”
The novel’s dark and magical tones, and its hopeful redemption, also suggest a hint of what things Parker might create next.
“I miss Charlie and his devil in the basement,” Parker said, “but he’s run his course. I think I left him in a good place, and it’s time to move onto other things. It’s liberating and scary at the same time. It frees up the mind. I’m open to sensation and information and experience. It’s nice to be looking for a story in the things you see around you. I may try to do a literary novel. I may try to write a darker thriller, what I’m known for. It’s really up to me.
“I’ve written three short stories in the last few months, just to fill the space, while I think about other projects,” Parker continued. “I’ve got some outlines and notes going, on a literary book I’d like to write. It’s a story of a young Marine returning to Pendleton and trying to resume his life here in Fallbrook. It’s not that the returning Marine and soldier story has not been told, but I’m not so sure it’s been told in the context of this splintered political situation, this heated partisan world, this devastated economy. That’s kind of what I’m after. But until the book’s finished, you may as well just shut your mouth.”
To the delight of his readers, Parker hasn’t shut his “mouth” since his first novel, Laguna Heat, was published in 1985. Nineteen novels later, he continues to hone his craft and delve deeper into the human psyche. Whatever Parker writes next will have an eager, eclectic audience ready to devour it—perhaps amid Fallbrook’s verdant groves.
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Local T. Jefferson Parker events
La Jolla: Thursday, April 18th, 7:30 p.m.
T. Jefferson Parker program and signing
7812 Girard Ave
Fallbrook: Friday, April 19, 6:00-7:30 p.m.
T. Jefferson Parker program and signing
Fallbrook’s Writers Read
The Café des Artistes
103 S. Main (enter from the rear parking lot off Alvarado)
The Charlie Hood series
L.A. Outlaws 2008
The Renegades 2009
Iron River 2010
The Border Lords 2011
The Jaguar 2012
Kit-Bacon Gressitt's commentary and political fiction can be read on her blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing and have been published by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, The Ocean Beach Rag, The Progressive Post and San Diego Free Press. She formerly worked for the North County Times. She is also host of Fallbrook's monthly Writers Read open mic and can be reached at email@example.com.