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Strong Darkness by Jon Land

strongdarknessReviewed by Russell Ilg

Jon Land’s brand new Caitlin Strong novel, as hard as it is to believe, is his best to date in this stellar series that’s one of the best being written today. Every one of the novels has a life of its own from the first page to the last, but Strong Darkness seems to jump off those pages in terms of detail as well as character, achieving a life and vitality rare for fiction in general and thrillers in particular. The book doesn’t even give you a chance to get settled in your chair, just throws you back so far so fast you feel you’ve been struck by the train on the book’s creepy cover.

The real conductor here is Land’s heroic Caitlin Strong, a fifth generation Texas Ranger who’s kind of a throwback in terms of temperament and attitude. For her the past is never far behind, literally since her family history always plays a key role, taking us back to the earlier, sometimes very early, days of the Rangers in cases somehow connected to whatever Caitlin’s investigating in the present with the help of her reformed outlaw boy friend Cort Wesley Masters. Masters has two teenage sons for whom Caitlin assumes a maternal role in stark contrast to her gunfighter mentality. It’s a curious juxtaposition, kind of like a mother bear protecting her cubs, and one that creates the perfect balance between the twin sides of her nature.

Strong Darkness begins with Caitlin’s great-grandfather, Texas Ranger William Ray Strong, pursuing the Old West’s first serial killer with the help of the legendary hanging judge Roy Bean. Fast-forward to the present where Caitlin finds herself facing off against another serial killer whose methods are identical to that one. Before she can set her sights on that, though, she learns Cort Wesley’s oldest son Dylan is lying in a hospital after being almost beaten to death and off she goes to Brown University in Providence, RI to stir up trouble there as well.

How exactly, though, is that connected to a Chinese company run by a vengeful Chinese billionaire with sights on destroying the whole United States? Good thing the one woman wrecking crew of Caitlin, along with Cort Wesley and her personal guardian angel in the form of the indestructible Guillermo Paz, are around to take him on. Li Zhen has his own crosses to bear, as they say, one of them somehow connected to the 5G wireless network his company is building for its own nefarious purposes. There may be no shortage of bullets flying every which way, but what Land is really trying to do here is prey on our fears of Chinese motivations and manipulations, cleverly adding other hotbed issues to the mix from human trafficking to the little known world of the Deep Web. Cutting edge stuff honed sharp as a razor.

Structurally flawless and bursting with ambition, Strong Darkness is sure to be the most intense, action-packed thriller of the year. Land has become one of the literary highlights of the year for me, putting as much pride and dedication into his work as the Texas Rangers themselves. The world could use more of them and more of Jon Land too.

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