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'Renegades' offers stylish crime novel

Posted: Friday, February 20, 2009

"The Renegades" by T. Jefferson Parker.

The Antelope Valley is a vast stretch of high desert north of Los Angeles, where thousands of affordable homes have been thrown up and where urban gangs are already starting to move in. The sheriff's department considers it Siberia, but Charlie Hood has asked to be assigned here, preferring to patrol at night and alone.

Just 29 years old, Hood seems much older - both because he is mature beyond his years and because he has been beaten down by the events of last year, when he was introduced as the protagonist of book titled "L.A. Outlaws." Before that book was over, Hood had fallen in love with a flamboyant woman bandit, grieved when she was gunned down in a robbery, and become involved in the dirty business of exposing a crooked cop.

Now, at the start of "The Renegades," Hood needs time to heal. He's not going to get it.

Hood doesn't have a choice when the sheriff assigns him a partner, a veteran named Terry Laws who's so beloved in the department that he's known as "Mr. Wonderful." On their first night out, a thug approaches their parked patrol car with a machine gun, fires a stream of bullets through the windshield into Laws, and takes off, never once turning his gun on Hood.

As he watched the clouds move through the moonlight Hood wondered who Terry Laws was, and if he had done something to cause this to happen." Once again, Hood finds himself investigating fellow officers who are not what they appear to be.

"The Renegades," the 15th crime novel by Parker, is another stylish, cleverly plotted yarn by one of the most consistent performers in the crime novel genre.

Parker's recent novels have been characterized by a parade of unconventional characters including Allison Murrietta, a Robin Hood-style female bandit ("LA Outlaws," 2008), Robbie Brownlaw, a homicide detective suffering from a neurological disorder which causes him to "see" people's voices as colors ("The Fallen," 2006), and Joe Trona, a young hero scarred from being raised in an institution ("Silent Joe," 2001).

"The Renegades," built around stolid, reliable Charlie Hood, is a more conventional police procedural. But Parker does give us a few glimpses of Allison Murrietta's daring son Bradley, who doesn't seem to have decided which side of the law he belongs on. He is likely to emerge as a major figure in a future book.



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