Hardcover (also available as an e-book), 978-0-7653-8470-6, 368 pgs., $29.99
July 28, 2020
Caitlin Strong is a Texas Ranger, the latest in a line of Strong-family Texas Rangers. When all of the residents in the small Texas border town of Camino Pass are found dead in their beds, Caitlin is dispatched, with representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, to investigate. Then Caitlin learns that Luke, her teenaged unofficially adopted son in Houston, has been rushed to the emergency room after an opioid overdose. When Ranger Strong begins investigating the prescription-opioid outbreak in Houston, she suspects that it’s somehow connected to the deaths in Camino Pass.
Strong from the Heart, eleventh in Jon Land’s Caitlin Strong series, is of the caliber of James Rollins’s Sigma Force series. It is well constructed, with sections and chapters of similar length, and each chapter has a natural end. The pacing is steady at the beginning, gradually increasing as the climax nears. In believability, enhanced by connections to historical figures, such as Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, and events, such as the Proyecto Magistral mining disaster in 2014, Strong has the Sigma Force series beat.
A strong subplot involving Caitlin’s great grandfather, Ranger William Ray Strong, and his exploits with Villa is cleverly presented, Caitlin eventually learning the whole story, told to her by several different characters throughout the text.
The cast of characters is top notch. In addition to Caitlin Strong, it includes some formidable antagonists, including a high-level politician with a never-ending pot of money and a thug who physically cannot feel pain. To keep you guessing, there’s a character who seems to balance on the line between good and bad. Brief backstory as series characters are introduced allows this installment to stand on its own.
Dialogue is consistent with the era and place, without going overboard. For example, in the historical subplot about Ranger William Ray Strong and Villa, a woman points south and says, “Don’t know. Men went that way to fetch them. . . . That was two days ago. Last we seen of them too.”
The author has a solid, diverse handle on description, routinely employing all five senses. For example, in describing the feel of the air in the town: “. . . something that made the air feel chalky, with a palpable sense of fear permeating it.” Land’s imagery of the intangible is evocative: “A souvenir to be pulled from a shelf of memory to be enjoyed again and again.”
As a testament to his respect for the Texas Rangers, Land begins each section in the book with a blurb about a notable ranger.
Land is a master storyteller, with a talent for constructing multi-dimensional puzzles with words. In the Author’s Note, Land writes that when he began this novel, the only thing he knew was that he wanted to construct a story about the opioid epidemic in the United States. How he progressed from that premise to his finished novel is kind of like when you give someone a bunch of balloons and tell them to blow them up, and they come back with a zoo full of balloon animals.
Beginning with the disaster at Camino Pass, Land lays out the puzzle pieces. Even if you get the puzzle outline, by the time the interior pieces come into focus, you’ll already be on the speeding train, powering into the climax.
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