It's the year 1821 in the gulf waters off the coast of Texas. A four-masted schooner smuggling slaves and mysterious, invaluable contraband, is boarded by a group of pirates led by none other than the infamous Jean Lafitte and the legendary Jim Bowie.
The ship is sunk and the valuables stolen; so begins Jon Land's Strong Vengeance, his fourth installment in a truly excellent series about Caitlin Strong, a female Texas Ranger. While this latest book is set in present day, Land likens Caitlin Strong to a 19th century gunfighter. "I've taken the classic American hero, who is always a man, and turned him into a her," he said.
"I've always loved westerns, and wanted to write about the Texas Rangers," said Land. "Caitlin needed a credible background so I gave her a family of Rangers." He's definitely created a unique American heroine. Caitlin Strong is tough, sexy and vulnerable. She handles her Sig Sauer handgun as deftly and often as a computer geek uses a keyboard, so quicker than you can say "shooting inquiry," Strong finds herself deskbound.
A mass murder on an oil rig in the same gulf waters from 1821 brings Strong back into the fray and she finds herself in the middle of an investigation involving a corrupt industrialist, the legend of Jean Lafitte's treasure and an extraordinarily frightening terrorist conspiracy. Land understands the process of real police work, and the clever plot unfolds at a perfect pace. I fear that revealing more information will ruin the suspense, so I'm not giving away any more details.
Land has also surrounded Caitlin Strong with a wildly select group of supporting characters, my favorite being Colonel Guillermo Paz, a seven-foot tall hired killer, fond of quoting Einstein and General Ferdinand Foch. Land moves from present to past with cinematic ease, so Strong's father and grandfather both appear in a crucial subplot that is equally satisfying for newcomers as well as series loyalists.
Land's writing style is distinct and his work is filled with unique characters, detailed storylines and wry humor so everyone from Elmore Leonard to Carl Hiaasen has undoubtedly influenced him. Strong Vengeance is a rare combination of meticulous research and good old-fashioned shoot-em-up action. All of the book's historical information about the state of Texas as well as the Rangers is true, save for the fact that they've yet to have a woman serve in their ranks. With Jon Land serving as a key recruiter, it's only a matter of time.
(Sony has optioned Strong Enough To Die -- Land's first book in the cycle - as a potential television series. Jennifer Garner has my vote to play Caitlin Strong)