by Jon Land
(Forge/Tom Doherty Associates Books 2012)
The ability to combine nightmarish events that could occur just down the street from the safety of our homes with colorful backgrounds, thought-provoking characters, and extreme danger is a rare and vital talent. These are the elements of popular thrillers. A few authors are able to take such stories to an even more enjoyable level by imbuing the characters with human emotions that resonate in readers with the reality of their own life experience. These elements are combined in Jon Land’s Caitlin Strong series.
Caitlin, a fifth generation Texas Ranger, is a thoroughly engaging heroine. Called “Hurricane” for good reason by her mentor, who had served with her father and grandfather, because grim danger and corpses are the future and wake of her path through life. Single-minded service as a Ranger has been interrupted by falling in love with an infamous hoodlum, Cort Wesley Masters. While having served his time officially, Cort Wesley is always on at least the brink of detention. He has two teenage sons. Caitlin becomes their de facto mother, exposing a touching maternal instinct. A lethal peace officer, in love with a henchman, caring for his children, and enmeshed in the crises of the moment presents a character with immense possibility. Will she have to choose between hearth and home or crime solving?
Strong Vengeance picks up on that beat. On a boat ride in the Gulf of Mexico with one of the boys, they encounter a freak occurrence. Twenty or so corpses lined-up on a silent drill rig. What’s this about? What does it have to do with Caitlin doing her motherhood thing?
Cort Wesley is in a Mexican prison, where he fights daily for survival. As Caitlin is drawn into the vortex of spiraling events, she is joined by a breathing survivor and ghosts of her ancestry, the boys, a Mexican giant with a team of Zeta force commandos, shadowy Homeland Security operatives, bodies of people having no finger prints or who have died before, devil logos, and local police who stumble from failure to another. Caitlin’s forbears had failed to solve the mysterious murder of Longhorn frat boys on Galveston Island chasing the supposed treasure of Jean Lafitte from pre-Civil War pirating in the Louisiana bayous.
The trail she blazes leads to a grimly real plan of a local Al Queada terrorist cell to detonate thousands of barrels of nuclear waste in a manner that will potentially kill millions in Texas and up the Atlantic Coast.
Can the disaster be averted? Will Cort Wesley get out of Mexico? Will the boys be sacrificed? Will romance blossom for Caitlin? If so, will we experience any of it? Can she adjust to domestic life? Can Cort Wesley?
As promised, all of these elements are woven together in a wonderfully readable story. I only put down Strong Vengeance to sleep. I was on my way to Paris from Texas, wondering if my homeland would be there when I returned. When I turned the last page, my mind was moving to the next adventure. The anticipations I had when opening the book were whetted and reframed for the next in the Caitlin series to come.
If you enjoy thrillers, with characters having hearts and souls, and you have not been immersed in the world of Jon Land, you are in for a treat. His work provides a refreshing gust of fresh air to the predictable intrigue and violence of the genre. I look forward to Strong Vengeance climbing atop the best seller list, as well as to its sequels.
What new danger will invade Caitlin’s peaceful life? That I close with such a question is simple testament to the joy of the reading. In each of my prior reviews of this series, I closed with the declaration that I am ready for more. Damn! Bring it on, Jon. I am Strong at Heart and ready for the next adventure.
Strong Vengeance is just that, a story about the Strongs and vengeance on all sides of the law.