“Look, the Texas Rangers are here!”
True to that line in the first chapter of Strong from the Heart, they are indeed. Led as usual by the ever-stalwart Caitlin Strong in a mesmerizing and magnificent entry in the best female-driven mystery-thriller series being written today.
Even that, though, isn’t saying enough for the book author Jon Land has been building toward for a decade now. His latest isn’t just one of the best thrillers of the year, it also confronts his characters, and readers too, with a mindset and approach that’s exceedingly rare for a genre novel.
I say that because not only does Strong from the Heart find Land featuring the opioid crisis front and center, but he does so with his tried and true series regulars front and center. Start with Caitlin’s surrogate son, now high school senior Luke Torres, being rushed to the hospital after snorting Oxycontin. Add to that Caitlin’s own dependence on Vicodin to get her through the pain from recent gunfight-related trauma and you’ve got the recipe for a thriller rife with characters at war with themselves as much as the bad guys who’ve hatched a typically nightmarish plot, typical for Jon Land and Caitlin Strong anyway.
These particular Washington-based villains have formed a drug cartel of mammoth proportions under the auspices of the government itself. Their dirty dealings are brought to light when an entire town on the Texas-Mexico border is wiped out in minutes. But a Caitlin Strong thriller is far more comfortable in the darkness and Strong from the Heart is no exception there, as we’re treated to a seemingly endless succession of morally challenged types, most notably a monstrous Native American named Yarek Bone who sports a condition that keeps him from feeling any pain.
Good thing Caitlin’s trusted protector and sidekick Guillermo Paz is on the job, fired from his job as an elementary school gym teacher (for teaching second graders live fire exercises) just in time to join Caitlin’s oft-bad boy boyfriend Cort Wesley Masters by her side. Masters, for his part, is none too happy about his son Luke’s overdose and seeks to lay to waste the whole of Texas’s drug dealing underbelly.
Not surprisingly, that track runs straight into one following the truth behind what killed an entire town of three hundred and holds the potential to kill hundreds of millions more. Being that this is a Caitlin Strong novel, that’s hardly a surprise either. Nor is the aplomb with which Land unleashes his crack group of gunfighters, that now includes Caitlin’s murderously deadly half-sister Nola Delgado, to shoot first and ask questions later.
This is at its heart, after all, a gunfighter novel, a modern-day Western in which the good guys ride taller than ever and the bad ones wear an even darker shade of black. The beautifully realized Strong from the Heart is stunning in its effectiveness and execution, a mind-blowing tale that takes a flamethrower to our psyches to warm the chill it leaves up our spines. Seething with energy and replete with wondrously staged set pieces, this is thriller writing that defies genre even as it reminds us why we love to read.
Strong from the Heart is the eleventh book in the New York Times bestselling, award-winning Caitlin Strong series. It will be published on July 28 and is available for pre-order now.
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