The Washington Post
Iron River (Charlie Hood Series #3)by T. Jefferson Parker, David Colacci (Read by)
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On a dusty highway just north of the United States/Mexico border, a man named Mike Finnegan is struck by a fast-moving vehicle and flung into the desert. Miraculously, he survives and winds up in a hospital in the tiny border town of Buenavista, seemingly in full possession of his faculties — including the eerie ability to understand events happening well outside the view from his hospital bed.
Charlie Hood joins a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms task force patrolling the “iron river,” where illegal guns flow from United States dealers to the Mexican drug business. Hood is part of a stakeout team when a federal officer’s bullet kills an innocent boy.
The boy happens to be the son of Benjamin Armenta, head of the Gulf Cartel and one of the most violent men in the world. Armenta’s thirst for vengeance even in routine business matters is well known. His hired killers are credited with many of the murders and beheadings of the fifteen thousand people who have died in the cartel wars along the border in recent years. Hood and ATF brace themselves for brute vengeance.
As this unthinkable violence leaks from Mexico into the United States, and as Finnegan’s predictive powers become even stranger and stronger, Charlie Hood works to understand the mysterious forces fighting for control of this tiny border town, forces that may have the power to slow the iron river — and to save the ATF men he has come to think of as his brothers.
The Washington Post
"Parker's concise prose, at once low-key and lyrical, plays almost like cowboy poetry." -Los Angeles Times
"Parker glides from novel to novel, usually taking us in unexpected new directions. If you're interested in the best of today's crime fiction, he's someone you should read." -The Washington Post
"Ambitious, daring...brilliant." —The Associated Press
"T. Jefferson Parker has burgled the crumbling palace of Edgar Allan Poe for inspiration." —The Wall Street Journal
“Parker, the winner of three Edgar awards for crime fiction, again delivers a tale that is not only well-plotted and suspenseful, but subtle, surprising and endearingly perverse.” —Washington Post
"T. Jefferson Parker has carved out a niche for himself as the Hemingway of thriller writers...His writing is a wonder to behold." —Providence Sunday Journal
“A spectacular close a crime series that obliterated the boundaries of the genre.” —BookReporter
"Parker could well be the best crime writer working out of Southern Caifornia." —Chicago Tribune
"The Charlie Hood novels are nothing less than addictive." —Tucson Citizen
"The most groundbreaking crime series in decades." —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"This is gripping literary entertainment with a point." —Los Angeles Times
"Some of the finest writing you'll ever read." —Chicago Sun-Times
Read an Excerpt
The car hurtled west towing a swirl of black exhaust into the first light of day. It was old and low, with Baja plates and a loose muffler that dangled and sparked on the dips. The woman drove. She was silver-haired and flat-faced and though her eyes were open wide to gather the light, her face was still slack from sleep. Her husband sat heavily beside her, boots spread and hat low, nodding slowly through the rises and falls of the highway, a coffee cup riding on his thigh.
“Cansada,” she said. Tired. Then told him about a dream she had had the night before: an enormous wave made of white lilies, a blue sun, and a nice talk with Benito, thirty years dead, who told her to say hello to his father.
Cansado, he thought.
He looked out. It was desert as far as he could see or remember seeing. He worked on cars at the gas station in Bond’s Corner. She had motel rooms to clean in Buenavista.
She told him about another dream she had had, and her husband lifted the cup and sipped and set it back on his thigh and closed his eyes.
The sun rose behind them. The woman checked its progress in the rearview mirror. Something registered ahead and she dropped her gaze back through the windshield to a young coyote sitting just off the shoulder next to a paloverde. She had never seen a coyote sitting down. She wondered if all her maids would show up today or she would have to clean a block of rooms herself. The sore neck. The weak arm. She steered the car down a steep dip and lifted her eyes to the mirror again. What did a wave of white lilies mean? In her dream, Benito looked young and sweet, exactly as he had in life. Benito the Beautiful. She was crossing herself as she neared the rise and still looking back at the sun while thinking of him and when she looked ahead again, she saw that she had drifted far into the oncoming lane. When she topped the rise, the truck was barreling down on her, the grille shiny and looming and the windshield a sun-forged plate of armor. Her husband cursed and reached for the wheel, but she was still in her genuflection and his hand closed not on the wheel but on her wrist so that she could use only her half-crippled left hand to correct the course of the big heavy Mercury.
She swung the wheel to the right with all her strength. She felt the back end come around and the front end slide away and she clutched the wheel with both hands now, and her husband was thrown against her, and orbs of his coffee wobbled in space but he held the wheel, too, and the truck thundered by with a sucking howl. The sedan broke loose from the pull and spun twice quickly and she was so utterly dazed by the force that when she saw the man crouching on the right shoulder by his pickup, she had no idea which way to turn the wheel in order to miss him. Then it was too late anyway. She saw the long hood of the car sweep across him and she felt the sharp impact, but the Mercury kept spinning and when it finally ground sideways through the gravel to a stop, she had no idea how she had missed the pickup, or where the dead man had landed.
She threw the shift into park. They sat for a moment, breathing hard, hearts pounding, dust rising around them in the sudden silence. She looked west down the highway and saw nothing but road, and when she looked behind them she saw the pickup truck and the rise far behind it.
“Dios,” she whispered.
The man looked hard at his wife then pulled the keys from the ignition and tried to brush the coffee from his new jeans. He pushed open the door and stepped into the morning.
It took them a few minutes to find the dead man sprawled back in the desert on the white sand between clumps of yucca. He was a gringo. He was small. His face was covered in blood and his body was misshapen. He wore the same kind of clothes she saw at Wal-Mart. He had a watch but no rings.
“Don’t touch him, he’s alive,” said her husband.
The man’s breath whistled in and out, and a tooth moved in his broken mouth. Then for a long time nothing. Then he breathed again.
She crossed herself and knelt beside him. Her husband looked around them, then back at the sun just above the horizon now.
She asked God and Ignacio what to do with such a broken body. She said there was the hospital in Buenavista, famous doctors who treated important people.
“Go away,” whispered the dead man. He opened his eyes. They were blue beneath the blood. “Please.”
“You will die,” she said.
The man was silent for a long moment during which he did not breathe. Then another breath, this one deeper, followed by another. The tooth moved and the air whistled in and out.
The husband said they would be arrested and deported, so if this man wanted them to go away, then they would.
She looked up at him. “No. We drive to the hospital. We tell them where he is.”
“Tell them. Nothing,” whispered the gringo. His eyes looked malevolent, but the woman thought that any eyes would look that way in a face so ruined and bloody.
“We have a duty to God,” she said.
The gringo drew a long breath, then he raised his hand very slightly from the sand, and he pointed his index finger at her, then curled it toward himself.
He curled the finger again, then lowered his hand back to the ground. He was watching her.
Maria Consalvo Reina Villalobos stared into the blue eyes. She looked at the broken, doll-like body. And she knew that if they were to leave the gringo here and drive away and not say one thing, then he would die and his blood would be on her hands twice—once for thinking of waves of lilies and her beloved son Benito, and once for not telling anyone that there was a man dying in the desert not ten miles from town.
She leaned in closer. She saw him watching her through the blood. His broken tooth whistled again. She sensed Ignacio hovering behind her. The little man said something that she couldn’t hear, so she leaned even closer.
“Señora y señor,” the gringo whispered. “In the name of Benito the Beautiful, tell them nothing.”
Maria Consalvo scrambled to her feet, hitting at herself as if she were being attacked by hornets. Ignacio stood tall and glared down at the gringo who called his dead son by name. He saw a boulder of quartz lying just beyond the yucca, a single boulder, as if dropped there for a purpose.
He took his wife by the arm and led her away. Ignacio knew that the man would probably be dead before the heat of afternoon, and certainly dead after it. He brought his wife to the passenger side of the Mercury and he opened the door for her and steadied her as she spilled into the cracked vinyl seat.
They were silent until Buenavista. As they entered the little border town, they agreed to say nothing to the authorities. They passed the zocalo and St. Cecilia’s church and the Rite Aid and the Denny’s. At the Ocotillo Lodge, Ignacio left the Mercury idling while he opened his wife’s door and kissed her formally before he drove off for Bond’s Corner. He had not opened her door or kissed her before work in twenty-four years.
Within five minutes Maria’s conscience prevailed and she called the Buenavista police station and told them about the man in the desert. She gave a good location based on the gringo’s pickup truck. She hung up when the deep-voiced policeman asked her name. She knew that voice: Gabriel Reyes, chief of Buenavista’s police force. Reyes ate breakfast alone at the Ocotillo on Thursdays, his uniform crisp, his face sad.
Ignacio called no one. When he got to work, his gringo boss walked him to the far part of the lot and lifted the tarp from a GM Yukon peppered with bullet holes. He told Ignacio it was muy importante, número uno. Fine, thought Ignacio. He preferred narcotraficantes to tiny devils any day.
Not long after Maria and Ignacio had left the man, the tractor-trailer that had nearly obliterated them arrived back on the scene of the near disaster. It had taken the driver two miles to still his nerves and face down his fears and make the laborious two-lane turnaround. He pulled off the road just behind the pickup truck. From his elevated position in the cab, he could see the big skid marks. He surveyed the desert around him and saw nothing unusual. There had been a man working on a flat tire. Then the Mercury coming at him in his own lane.
He got out and walked over to the pickup and saw the blown tire and the jack resting in the sand. The keys were still in the ignition and the driver’s window was down. He reached in and honked the horn and waited. A moment later he walked out into the desert beyond the pickup, but not far. Rattlesnakes liked the cool mornings this time of year. He’d run over one last spring not far from here that reached almost all the way across his lane, then he’d taken the time to turn around on the narrow highway and run over it again. He called out, and a jackrabbit bolted and his heart raced. A minute later he climbed back into the Freightliner and continued on toward Yuma. No good came in this desert.
Reyes looked at the skid marks, then up at the sun, then he followed the footprints that led into the desert. There were two sets. One was made by cowboy boots that left deep heel marks in the sand. The other was smaller and lighter and could have been pretty much any kind of shoe. The woman, he thought.
The tracks ended and Reyes found blood and a slight indentation where someone had rested. Apparently rested. The two tracks turned back toward the highway. But a third set of footprints, smaller than the boots but heavier than the shoes, continued away from this bloody lie into the desert beyond.
Reyes had no trouble following them. Half a mile to the north in the foothills that would later offer shade, he found a bloody little man half dug into an old den beneath a honey mesquite, legs protruding. Reyes knelt and saw the glint of an eye back in the darkness, and he reached down and lightly touched the man’s leg and told him he would be okay. Then he stood and on his third try was able to place a cell call to Imperial Mercy for an ambulance. Procedure was to call county first, but Reyes figured this guy would be dead if he had to wait for paramedics out of El Centro.
“They’re on the way,” he said.
The man groaned.
What People are Saying About This
-Providence Journal on The Renegades
"Parker's concise prose, at once low-key and lyrical, plays almost like cowboy poetry."
-Los Angeles Times
"Parker glides from novel to novel, usually taking us in unexpected new directions. If you're interested in the best of today's crime fiction, he's someone you should read."
-The Washington Post
Meet the Author
T. Jefferson Parker is the bestselling author of fourteen previous novels, including Storm Runners and The Fallen. Alongside Dick Francis and James Lee Burke, Parker is one of only three writers to be awarded the Edgar Award for Best Novel more than once. Parker lives with his family in Southern California.
- Fallbrook, California
- Date of Birth:
- December 26, 1953
- Place of Birth:
- Los Angeles, California
- B.A. in English, University of California-Irvine, 1976
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I was very disappointed in this novel. There were way too many characters and it seemed to go nowhere.
This paints a frightening picture of the lack of control on the Mexican border. Informative - but I won't be choosing this author again. I read one other book and it was also grim.
just awful--had trouble finishing it--wierd characters--why authors don't stick w/ what readers like is a mystery to me--maybe they get bored
NOT WORTH HALF THE PRICE---SORRY
T. Jefferson Parker is one of our superior fictive writers. His books are always novel, superbly crafted and before this sensitive and very loopy deputy pinned on his badge ultimately gratifying. Now, with Charlie Hood, Mr. Parker has wandered, seemingly, off into the nether world that attracts so many fabulous authors, that netherworld of ghosts, goblins, psychoinsecurity and evil triumphant, veering from fiction to science fiction. Hood stands around throughout the book unable to pull the literary trigger on any of his miscreants. He enjoys the sunsets, the parties, the Southern California vibe. But the poor man should really give the squad room a pass and let the adults play. I stopped reading the Kaye Scarpetta novels years ago when the cunning archfiend in the one I was on conveniently slipped or tripped and fell into a swimming pool of solvent (!) two or three pages from the end (by which time, of course, one was frantic to discover how our heroine would escape THIS TIME! with so few pages left). That tome got airborne in my living room. Hood seems about ready for a similar test flight.
Skips around a bit getting the plot started which makes it a bit difficult to follow the plot. By about 100 pages in, everything sorts out and from there it is a good read. Probably based upon enough reality to be regarded as a docudrama in the very real drug war and gun trade being waged by drug lords, gun and drug smugglers and the governments along our southwest border with Mexico.
I like T. Jefferson Parker but......Not sure what happen with this book. There is not an end, the book just stops. I would not recommend this book.
I like Parker. I've read everything he's ever written and count "Silent Joe" among the better novels in my collection. But this book is a poorly written mess. There is no coherent plot, the characters behave erratically, the bad guys are cardboard cutouts and the good guys are blithering idiots. Who would house an agent targeted for assassination by Mexican narco trafficers in a hospital near the Mexican border? The book is an unbelievable mish-mash of half-baked plotting and poor writing. Let's hope Parker's next book is an improvement.
Los Angeles sheriff's deputy Charlie Hood is assigned to the Operation Blowdown taskforce trying to end the tidal wave of guns and money flowing down the "Iron River" from the States to Mexico. Charlie understands the irony that the Second Amendment crowd who many demand tighter border patrol sells arms to the cartels who sell back drugs and people. During a shootout between Charlie and his Blowdown unit against a cartel buying weapons leaves the son of the cartel leader dead. Now the border war is personal with Charlie and his team being targeted one at a time through loved ones if necessary. At the same time bankrupt weapons manufacturer Pace Arms has brokered a deal with a cartel through a middle man Bradley Smith, making life for law enforcement more dangerous. The third Hood police procedural (see L.A. Outlaws and The Renegades) is a terrific tale that spotlights how large, complex and dangerous the gun trafficking sold south is. Ironically during the recession this segment of free enterprise drugs for guns and cash remains profitable. The story line is fast-paced but the scope is so massive that gunrunning removes the faces of the victims and the survivors as characters including Charlie become almost irrelevant. As Stalin said: "The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of a million is statistic", which in this case overwhelms the cast and plot. Harriet Klausner