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Silent Joe by T. Jefferson Parker
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Silent Joe (2001)

by T. Jefferson Parker

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I have a signed copy of Laguna Heat, T. Jefferson Parker’s first mystery novel. It was a gift from a friend. My wife and I were living not far from Laguna at the time and it was a huge treat to receive the book. Everyone in Orange County was talking about it.

A few years later I met Parker when he was a speaker at an unusual college course on forensic science. In class, Parker talked about his book, his background as a newspaper reporter and some of the details of writing a good mystery story.

Here’s Parker’s first sentence in Laguna Heat: “A perfect morning in a city of perfect mornings; an artist would have worked, a god would have rested.” On his blog he says he was proud of that sentence. But it was the next two Silent Joesentences, especially the metaphor at the end, that I remember:

“The convertible slowed as it approached the stables, then pounced from the road onto a gravel driveway. Its headlights swung left-to-right, acute angles filling with dust, while gravel popped under the tires like grease in a skillet.”

Laguna Heat was a hit. It became a TV movie starring Harry Hamlin, Jason Robards and Rip Torn. Parker’s career was set. Since that time, he’s written 20 novels and picked up three Edgar awards. Silent Joe earned Parker his first Edgar in 2000 and it does not take a detective to see why the first-person novel about “acid baby” Joe won the award. If you’re looking for a place to acquire a taste for T. Jefferson, this is a good starting point.

Joe Trona is a 24-year-old Orange County Sheriff’s deputy assigned to jail duty. Many evenings, he serves as driver and often guard for his adopted father Will, a kind-hearted but dishonest county supervisor. The extent of his dishonesty, albeit with mostly good intentions, is exposed slowly to Joe throughout the novel. One evening as Joe is escorting his father Will on an errand that includes rescuing a young girl who apparently has been kidnapped, Will is trapped and murdered in an alley while Joe looks on, unable to dispatch all of his father’s attackers.

The balance of the book is Joe’s search for Will Trona’s killers. Along the way, Joe revisits his painful past. His birth father poured acid on Joe’s face when he was a baby, forever scaring him. Five years, later Will adopted Joe from an orphanage, an act of kindness that Joe has never forgotten. When he grew up, Joe went into law enforcement.

When possible, Joe wears a hat pulled low over his face. Parker’s description of Joe’s face makes him sound somewhat like the phantom of the opera.

Double-dealing Orange County politics forms the background for the story. A rich developer and his psycho son, a county department head on the take, the county’s premier televangelist, an odd assortment of inmates and other crooks plus members of Joe’s unusual family populate the novel. But Joe is the star.

He’s a tough cop. He’s muscular and works out regularly, knows how to handle himself and is a skilled marksman. As a result, this could be a Rambo type story with a hard-ass tough-guy protagonist bent on revenge, but Joe is a complex character and the complications in his life lift this story to surprising and rewarding heights.

I marveled at Parker’s creation and wondered if other readers–or reviewers–recognized the subtle, elusive nuances I sensed in Joe. Bill Sheehan, a Barnes and Noble reviewer, said Joe was an “evolving protagonist with love and loyalty issues.” Some reviewers referred to Joe’s intelligence. He is smart and has an eidetic memory. He recalls everything he sees and hears.

But there’s more to Joe. He’s polite–not smart-alecky–and doesn’t swear. He’s slow and introspective; his scars are not just on his face. One reviewer said Joe was “hesitant.” The voice Parker gave Joe, however, is unique in a way that makes other “unique” voices in fiction sound commonplace.

Silent Joe gets more gritty and compelling as it goes along. Joe learns more about his suspects, his parents and himself. He exchanges barbs with the sadistic jail inmates and also falls in love.

Parker keeps up the pace using staccato sentences and fragments to move the action swiftly in some scenes. He doesn’t neglect metaphors, either. Explaining rush hour traffic he says, “But cars on Orange County freeways at six o’clock move about as fast as cars on showroom floors.”

The novel’s supporting cast–particularly the jail prisoners–from the crazy biker who carried the head of a victim around in a pillowcase tied to his hog for a week to a former assistant DA who planned to go to Tahiti with his family when he got out, fills the story of Joe’s life with fascinating details.

Toward the end of the book, Joe talks to one of his father’s friends, or more appropriately, acquaintances. After the meeting, Joe summarizes his situation and reviews his father’s oft-repeated advice that was possibly Joe’s nascent philosophy:

“The idea struck me that I was inheriting my father’s friends, as well as his enemies. I just wasn’t positive which was which. I wondered if Will was. You only had to be wrong once.

“Love a lot. Trust few.” ( )
  Mark_Bacon | Jul 24, 2017 |
Read June 2017. Not a bad read 68 ( )
  DannyKeep | Jul 2, 2017 |
"The idea struck me that I was inheriting my father's friends, as well as his enemies. I just wasn't positive which was which, I wondered if Will was. You only had to be wrong once."

By day, Joe Trona is a fourth-year Sheriff's Deputy working a prison ward, trying to make sure the peace holds. By night, he's the wheel man and protection for his adopted father, Will Trona. Will is Sheriff, he knows everyone's goings on and he works the town like a chessboard. When a deal goes bad and Will is murdered, Joe has to pick up the game and figure out how all the pieces interact.

I don't have much to say about this book. The LT Recommendations engine tossed this one my way. All I had to read was emotionally and physically scarred law enforcement officer... and it reminded me of Karin Slaughter's Will Trent series, which is one of my favorites. So that's how I ended up reading it. It was okay. I got a little weary of the mechanations. I was really tired of reading how many rounds Joe and his lady love had gone. I had to remind myself who certain characters were - never a good thing. Oh well. ( )
  VictoriaPL | Jan 22, 2016 |
"Silent Joe" tells the story of fatherly love and admiration mixed with a strong desire to be accepted and to succeed.

Joe's face was scarred as a baby when acid was thrown in his face. His birth mother deserted him and his father of record ended up in jail for this crime.

As we see Joe, he is the driver and bodyguard for his father, Will. He's also a sheriff at a local jail.

This is a psychological novel in which we see Joe as an extremely polite, mild mannered man. He states that the happiest day of his life was the day Will and Mary Ann Trona adopted him.

One night, while driving Will, tragedy occurs. In what was to be Will's rescue of an eleven-year-old kidnap victim, Will is shot down before Joe's eyes. Joe kills two of the shooters but the leader escapes. Through the remainder of the story, Joe attempts to piece together the events leading up to the shooting and to bring to justice those involved.

There is a connection to gangs operating in Orange County, County politics and the details of the missing little girl.

The story is well told and entertaining. Joe is a well developed and unique character. There are a number of surprises along with well written dialogue."Save your friends, spend your enemies." was one of Joe's father's favorite sayings.

Through it all, Joe finds love and acceptance and a place in the reader's memory as an entertaining character with a story to tell. ( )
  mikedraper | Nov 12, 2014 |
I have heard of T Jefferson Parker for years, but for some reason had never picked up one of his books. That will be changing. This novel is an Edgar award winner, and deservedly so.
The story is of Will Trona, a young man who was disfigured as a toddler by his father throwing acid in his face. He spent some time in an orphanage, but is eventually adopted by a local law enforcement officer. Will grows up and follows in the footsteps of his adopted father. When his father is later killed in front of his eyes, Will must do everything in his power to find out who did it.
Excellent mystery and excellent characters come together for a thoroughly enjoyable read. ( )
  TheBoltChick | Nov 12, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0786890037, Mass Market Paperback)

Scarred for life by a brutal father, Joe Trona found a safe haven and a loving childhood in the home of the couple who adopted him. Now he spends his days as a deputy for the Orange County sheriff's department and his nights as a driver and aide to Will Trona, the influential politician who rescued him from the Hillside Children's Home. An expert in firearms and the martial arts, Joe has been backing Will up for a long time. Still, his skill isn't enough to keep Will alive, and when his father is killed right in front of Joe's eyes, the young deputy vows to avenge him. But first he must find out how the kidnapping of a tycoon's daughter, a scam to line the pockets of Will Trona's political enemies, the murder of two Guatemalan immigrants, the unholy activities of a charismatic minister who's a close friend of the Trona family, and the strange alliance of two rival L.A. gangs are connected to Will's death.

Every secret Joe uncovers leads deeper into his beloved father's murky past and ultimately his own. But the reader stays right with this extraordinary man as he battles his demons and ultimately vanquishes them. Author T. Jefferson Parker (The Blue Hour, Red Light, Laguna Heat) is one of the best thriller writers working today. Fans of Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane--and Raymond Chandler, for that matter--will appreciate Parker's ability to create a complex, fascinating, and fully realized hero whose inner reality is brilliantly revealed by his actions. Will Trona is an equally intriguing invention; while ultimately he is an enigma, we remain convinced that he is worthy of his son's devotion. Silent Joe is a mindful, intelligent novel you can't put down. It should break Parker out with the really big boys of mystery fiction, the million-sellers with the marquee names. In fact, he's a much better writer than most of them, and unlike many, he never tells the same story twice. --Jane Adams

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:31 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A young man, swept into the maelstrom of power and intimidation that surrounds his adoptive father's illustrious career as an Orange County politician, investigates the death of his father which leads him to secrets surrounding a little kidnapped girl and two gangs.

» see all 3 descriptions

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