Thoughts on books: Red Light- T.Jefferson Parker

by dantewilde


The cover of the novel proudly proclaims, “Parker has only one rival – Thomas Harris”- The Washington Post. The paper has a certain amount of clout that would lead you to think anyone who can hold a candle to Harris (who gave us Hannibal Lector) has to be impressive. I don’t know which book the quote was meant for, but it certainly wasn’t Red Light. The novel is a typical run of the mill crime novel that lacks any moments of memorability. It lacks almost every twist and turn and hair raising moment we’ve come to expect from the genre.

T. Jefferson Parker has written a typical ‘whodunnit’ murder mystery that examines the supposedly mysterious murder of a lady of the night (who just so happens to be working undercover for the police). The blurb will tell you more or less everything you need to know about the novel. Interestingly enough, it acts less as a hook and more as a deterrent (I live life on the edge and don’t read blurbs until I’ve finished the book). It tells us that Officer Mike McNally, who is involved with protagonist and led detective Merci Rayborn is implicated in the murder.

Disappointingly, we know from the tone of the blurb (and the first page that implicates McNally) that he isn’t the one that murdered prostitute Aubrey Whittaker. McNally is the good guy, good cop who has clearly been framed, he is also Whittaker’s police handler. It would been deliciously unexpected if the lover of the protagonist turned into a violent and calculating (albeit clumsy) murderer. It pays to remember, that as a fictional Officer, he’d be an amateur to leave behind some of the evidence the CSI’s find.

Enter: Patti Bailey. The parallel plot murder of a prostitute that’s turned cold case and lands in Merci’s lap during cold case season. Although the Bailey case is thirty years old, given there are no coincidences in fiction, it wont surprise you to learn that the Whittaker McNally Bailey debacle is connected. Oh, shock and horror, there’s a crooked cop lurking in the system that may or may not be responsible for the Bailey case. The cases unfold more or less side by side and amongst it all Merci is trying to work her way through her feelings and fears that surround the death of her former lover at the hands of a psychopath.

Merci’s having to deal with these left over emotions and fears (she was also attacked and as a result studiously searches the backseat of her car before she gets in at night) shows that not only is she a strong woman with issues and a child, she’s the most complicated character Jefferson Parker wrote. Merci’s trials and tribulations  are entertaining enough, they aren’t literary, but that isn’t the point. She’s followed closely by her new partner Zamorra, who is dark and distant because his wife’s dying, though he  lacks any sort of real complex outside the immediate cause and effect.

Our supporting cast, as it were, are driven by their own motives and are connected on the surface by their involvement in the police force. Beyond this, Red Light is a causal rerun of an hour long CSI programme in paper back form.

To match, Jefferson Parker’s prose style is dry and uninviting. There are no beautifully written paragraphs or wonderful metaphors. Personally I enjoy flavour in my prose, reading the words should be as much of an experience as enjoying the story and having your imagination invoked and neck hairs raised. It helps to carry the story forward. Writing is an art and prose, if not overall, should be beautiful, at least in places.

Red Light was difficult to finish. It wasn’t so much my slight aversion to crime fiction, I tend to devour anything I get my hands on, it was the feeling of old dead prose waiting for me at my bedside. The novel leaves us with nothing to look forward to (even when we find out who killed Bailey and Whittaker, it’s an unsatisfying ending). Reading is as much, if not more, about the journey as it is the destination. These characters don’t grow and react to anything in such away that you want to keep them around for hours while you finish the book. Because of this, all we’re left with is wanting to find out ‘whodunnit’ and move onto the next novel on the list.