Strong Cold Dead: A Caitlin Strong Novel by Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

Strong Cold Dead“Nobody goes beyond this point, ma’am,” is the first thing Caitlin Strong is told in Jon Land’s superb and sensational Strong Cold Dead. And I probably don’t have to tell you what she does next in the eighth book featuring the stalwart fifth generation Texas Ranger.

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A gunfighter and loner hero in the frontier sense bred of the classic Western, Caitlin is no stranger to breaking the rules or gunning down bad guys. Strong Cold Dead features a weighty mixture of both, as she finds herself battling none other than forces of ISIS on Texas soil. It’s a long-buried secret on a mysterious Indian reservation that’s drawn the terrorist group here, thanks to a social outcast reaching out to them on social media.

Caitlin has a past with that same social outcast, hardly surprising given Land’s penchant for making all the books in this splendid series twist-filled, complex puzzles where all the pieces fit magically together at the end. Strong Cold Dead does that and then some, as Land treats us to a multi-layered plot that stretches all the way back to the 1870s when Caitlin’s great-great-grandfather, Steeldust Jack Strong, did battle with none other than John D. Rockefeller on the very same Indian reservation.

Rockefeller was after oil, which figures in here as well, though only as subterfuge. The real Maguffin is a veritable weapon of mass destruction that’s been hidden on the land for centuries and has the potential to kill tens of millions, if ISIS succeeds in getting their hands on it. Making sure they don’t, of course, falls to Caitlin and her usual supporting cast that includes Cort Wesley Masters, her reformed outlaw boyfriend, and Guillermo Paz, her deadly protector who’s as much a true force of nature as she is.

The action spirals across time and Texas, as billionaire industrialist Clay Rawls enlists the help of sleazy minerals broker Sam Bob Jackson in staking his claim on the Comanche reservation in question where Caitlin’s surrogate son Dylan has left college to join a protest. Like everything else in Strong Cold Dead, that protest turns violent since this book, and entire series, seems themed on pushing people to their limits with the last man (or woman) standing emerging the winner. That’s especially fitting here in a pair of brilliantly staged climaxes in which Caitlin and Cort Wesley battle ISIS fighters on two Texas fronts to save the state and maybe the country.

High stakes are nothing new for Caitlin, but they seem higher here emotionally as well structurally, as she strives to blend parenting with gunfighting. An elusive bar for sure, but one she seems well adept at reaching in staking out her claim on grounds normally traveled by the likes of Jack Reacher and Mitch Rapp. Caitlin has joined their ranks as the lone female member whose wit and words are as sharp as her aim.

Strong Cold Dead opens at the speed of a machine gun burst and never stops hitting the bulls-eye, a high-octane action thriller par excellence that places this series among the very best being penned today. Call it a one-of-a-kind, at least until next year when Caitlin returns for her next adventure.

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