Red Light (Merci Rayborn Series #2)

Red Light (Merci Rayborn Series #2)

5.0 8
by T. Jefferson Parker

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Parker's many fans met Merci Rayborn, the Orange County homicide investigator, in The Blue Hour, and will be happy to renew their acquaintance with her in Red Light. Although she's still mourning the death of her former partner Tim Hess, who fathered her 2-year-old son, her relationship with fellow cop Mike McNally is progressing nicely, and so is her career on the


Parker's many fans met Merci Rayborn, the Orange County homicide investigator, in The Blue Hour, and will be happy to renew their acquaintance with her in Red Light. Although she's still mourning the death of her former partner Tim Hess, who fathered her 2-year-old son, her relationship with fellow cop Mike McNally is progressing nicely, and so is her career on the force. Then two murders, decades apart, come together in a way that shakes Merci's world both personally and professionally; two beautiful young prostitutes are both killed for what they knew and what they threatened to tell. Who's covering up the corruption in the department that led to the first murder And was Merci's lover responsible for the second Someone's sending Merci evidence that disappeared from the police locker years ago; did that same person frame Mike tooMerci doesn't want to believe McNally's involved, but everything points to him. When she's forced to arrest him, everything she believes in comes in for a painful reexamination. And when her efforts to solve both killings lead inexorably back to where they started--to the department itself--she faces the most difficult challenge of all. Parker is a masterful writer, with a sure command of the idiom, a fine sense of pacing, and more emotional depth than many of his colleagues. Fans will applaud this outing, and new readers will seek out his extensive backlist. --Jane Adams

Editorial Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
T. Jefferson Parker at his most memorable and affecting in Red Light -- nominated for a 2001 Edgar Award for Best Novel -- which takes up the story begun so brilliantly in The Blue Hour. A gripping, if familiar, account of the hunt for a serial killer known as the Purse Snatcher, The Blue Hour transcended its generic origins through its clean, lucid style and its precise rendering of the evolving relationship between an unlikely pair of lovers: Merci Rayborn, a feisty, ambitious young homicide detective from Orange County, California, and Tim Hess, an aging former homicide investigator who has just been diagnosed with cancer.

By the end of book, both Hess and the Purse Snatcher are dead, while Merci, pregnant with Hess’s child, is left alone to reassemble the shattered pieces of her life. By the time that Red Light opens, more than two years have gone by, and Merci’s life is still in a state of disarray. She loves her son, Tim Jr., with a primal ferocity, and she continues to believe in the fundamental value of her career. But she is haunted by nightmares, consumed by guilt over her role in Hess’s death, and beset by a feeling of pervasive dread, the lingering aftermath of her own climactic encounter with Hess’s killer.

Two cases, eerily similar but separated in time by more than 30 years, dominate the narrative of Red Light. The first concerns the fatal shooting of an upscale call girl named Aubrey Whittaker, who is murdered in her apartment following a dinner date with an unidentified man. The second, older case also involves the murder of an Orange County prostitute. The victim, this time, was Patti Bailey, a low-rent hooker with known connections to biker gangs and to the violent world of small-time drug dealers. In 1969, Patti was shot to death, her body abandoned in a local orange grove. No physical evidence -- gun, bullets, bloodstained clothes -- was ever located. No viable suspect was ever found. More than three decades later, the case is pulled, apparently at random, from the Unsolved File and given to Merci for a cursory reexamination.

The two murders ultimately connect in disturbing ways, each pointing to the possible criminal involvement of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. In the Aubrey Whittaker case, forensic reports indicate that Merci’s current lover -- a vice squad investigator named Mike McNally -- had been Aubrey’s dinner guest on the night of her death. Mike acknowledges this but claims that his motives -- and his relationship with Aubrey -- were innocent. Merci, feeling both angry and betrayed, commits a betrayal of her own, breaking into Mike’s house and unearthing a cache of incriminating evidence that leads to his arrest.

In the Patti Bailey case, an anonymous letter leads Merci to another cache of evidence that points, in time, to the active participation of a number of the Sheriff’s Department’s most prominent figures. As she slowly recreates the fatal summer of 1969, a period marked by corruption, racial violence, and the pervasive influence of right-wing political organizations like the John Birch Society, Merci uncovers a tawdry story of blackmail, revenge, and twisted ambition in which a great many respected citizens voluntarily played a part. With a persistence as characteristic as her deep-seated anger, Merci follows both cases to their surprising conclusions, learns the identity of more than one murderer, and discovers the secret that connects the deaths of two very different women.

As always, Parker gives us a tense, convoluted story that keeps the pages turning at a furious pace, with the story grounded in his scrupulous rendering of the emotional realities that dominate his characters’s lives. Merci, in particular, is a beautifully realized character, a valuable, intelligent woman marked by sorrow and driven by the dictates of a fierce, uncompromising integrity. Her increasing sense of the darkness at the heart of things is painfully reflected in the world around her: Her latest partner, Paul Zamorra, spends much of the novel watching helplessly as his wife is consumed by an inoperable brain tumor, deliberately echoing the central events of an earlier Parker story, Summer of Fear.

The final product is a darkly effective novel that provides all of the traditional satisfactions of good suspense fiction, together with an uncommon degree of emotional depth and a highly personal vision of the tragic forces constantly at work in the world. Taken together, Parker's eight novels represent a distinctive contribution to the genre and deserve the attention of a large, discriminating readership. (Bill Sheehan)

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (

Washington Post Book World
If you're seeking a thinking man's bestseller, T. Jeffereson parker is the writer for you.
Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
Two years after the death of her partner and the father of her child, the "intriguing" Merci Rayborn is working hard to keep it all together, "torn between her duty to her job and the emotions that rule her heart." In this "fast moving," "topical" follow-up to The Blue Hour, Merci faces a challenge that makes her question everything she's taken for granted. "Does not disappoint" and "keeps you guessing."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The murders of two prostitutes 30 years apart provide the framework for this fine crime melodrama about police corruption and political ambition in Southern California's Orange County. The sequel to 1997's The Blue Hour finds homicide detective Merci Rayborn investigating the shooting death of a young hooker. As much as Rayborn hates to admit it, the primary suspect is her own boyfriend, Sgt. Mike McNally, who was a close friend of the prostitute, but claims he never had sex with her. As Rayborn struggles with the emotions of having to expose and arrest her lover, her boss drops another case on her--the unsolved 1969 slaying of another prostitute, found dead in an empty field. Rayborn wonders why such a seemingly simple case was never solved. The more she plows into it, however, the uglier it gets. Details suggest that corrupt political leaders and cops conspiring on a shady development deal may have committed the murder. And, oddly, some of the principals in that event seem to be reemerging in the case against McNally. Parker's latest sizzles along, an infectious blend of atmosphere, action and passion. Longtime fans will recognize formulaic twists and secondary story lines that the author has used before, but the plot stays fresh as it weaves between present and past. Particularly effective is Parker's recreation of Orange County's growth spurt in the 1960s, when unbridled development, backroom land deals and strict political conservatism were the order of the day. And Rayborn, the latest in Parker's line of protagonists with obsessive streaks, impresses as an absorbingly hardheaded hero, one who learns difficult truths about herself as well as about her cases. 7-city author tour. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|

Product Details

Publication date:
Merci Rayborn Series, #2
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.12(d)

Read an Excerpt


You might not have liked Aubrey Whittaker. She acted superior. She walked as if she were the most beautiful woman on Earth, which she wasn't. She didn't say very much. She was tall but wore heels anyway, and if she finally did say something, you felt like a driver getting a ticket. Her eyes were blue and infinitely disappointed in you. She was nineteen.

She let him come to her place again that night, something that had only happened once before. Strictly against policy. But he was different than the rest, different in ways that mattered. In her life she had learned to read men, who were as easy to understand as street signs: Caution, Yield, Stop. But did you ever really know one?

Aubrey had chosen a small black dress, hose with a seam up the back, heels with ankle straps and a string of pearls. No wig, just her regular hair, which was blond and cut short, sticking up like a boy's. The lipstick was apple red.

She made him dinner. She could only cook one thing well, so she cooked it. And a salad, rolls from the bakery, a pot of the good French roast coffee he liked, a dessert. Flowers in a squat round crystal vase that had cost a lot of money.

They sat across from each other at the small table. Aubrey gave D.C. the seat with the view of the Pacific. "D.C." was the abbreviation for Dark Cloud, the nickname she'd invented to capture his pessimism about human nature. It was an ironic nickname, too, because D.C. wasn't dark to look at, but light, with a broad, tanned face, a neat mustache, sharp eyes and a chunk of heavy blond hair that fell over his forehead like a schoolboy's. He was quick to smile, although it was usually a nervous smile. He was taller than her by a good three inches and strong as a horse, she could tell. He told stupid jokes.

She told him he could hang his gun on the chair, but he left it holstered tight against his left side, farther around his back than in the movies, the handle pointing out. Whatever, she thought. The idea of safety pleased her, made her feel compliant in a genuine way. Aubrey Whittaker rarely allowed herself a genuine feeling, couldn't always tell them from the ones she portrayed.

They talked. His eyes rarely strayed from her face, and they were always eager to get back. Hungry eyes. When dinner was over he sat there a moment, wiping the silverware with his napkin. He was fastidious. Then he left, at exactly the time he'd told her he'd leave. Off to see a man about a dog, he said. Another little joke of theirs.

At the door she put her arms around him and hugged him lightly, setting her chin against the top of his shoulder, leaning her head against his ear for just a moment. She could feel the tension coming off him like heat off a highway. She thought that the kind of guy she wanted would be a lot like D.C. Then she straightened and smiled and shut the door behind him. It was only ten minutes after ten.

She flipped on the kitchen TV to an evangelist, put the dishes in the sink and ran water over them. She watched a car roll out of the parking area below, brake lights at the speed bump. It might have been D.C.'s big, serious four-door or it might not have been.

Aubrey felt warm inside, like all her blood had heated up a couple of degrees, like she was just out of a hot bath or had just drank a big glass of red wine. She shook her head and smile lines appeared at the edges of her apple-red lips. It's just unbelievable, girl, she thought, what you've done with your life. Nineteen going on a hundred. You finally find a guy you can halfway stand, he trembles when you touch him through his clothes and you let him drive away.

Oh that you would kiss me, with the kisses of your mouth!

Song in the Bible.

I sucked you off in a theater.

Song on the radio.

Has everything changed, or nothing?

She rinsed the dishes, dried her hands and worked in some lotion. The fragrance was of lavender. Through the window she saw the black ocean and the pale sand and the white rush where the water broadened onto the beach then receded.

In the middle of the living room Aubrey stood and looked out at the water and the night. Thinking of the different shades of black, she pried off her high heels, then got down on all fours. Balance. She could smell the lavender. From there she was eye level to the arm of the black leather sofa.

Tentatively she placed her left hand out. Tentatively she raised her right knee and slid it forward. Then the hard part, the transfer of weight to her other hand and the moment of peril as the left knee came up to support her.

She wavered just a little, but when her left leg settled beneath her she was okay and very focused because she had to repeat the whole complex procedure again. Her doctor friend, the shrink, had advised her to do this. She had never learned. She had walked at eleven months.

Her doctor friend had said that for an adult to develop fully, to form certain concepts, especially mathematical ones, she needed to know how to crawl.

Then she heard the knock at the door. A flash of embarrassment went through her as she realized what she was: a six-foot woman in a short black dress crawling across her living room through the scent of lavender.

She sprung up and walked over. "Who's there?"

"Just me again, Aubrey--"

It was a little hard to hear, with all the cars roaring by on Coast Highway.

"--Your Dark Cloud."

She flipped the outside light switch and looked through the peephole. The bug bulb must have finally burned out because all she saw was one corner of the apartment building across the alley laced with Christmas lights, and the tiny headlights out on Coast Highway, miniaturized in a fish-eye lens clouded with moisture. She hadn't replaced that bulb in months.

When she opened the door she was smiling because she half expected his return, because she knew he was in her control now. And because she was happy.

Then her smile died from the inside out and she formed her last thought: No.

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.

Brief Biography

Fallbrook, California
Date of Birth:
December 26, 1953
Place of Birth:
Los Angeles, California
B.A. in English, University of California-Irvine, 1976

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Red Light (Merci Rayborn Series #2) 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
A sergeant in the Orange County Sheriff¿s Department, Merci Rayborn is a dedicated law enforcement official. She is an honorable person who believes her calling is to apprehend and bring criminals to justice. Although two long years have passed since a psychopath killed her partner and lover Tim Hess, Merci remains consumed with anger and guilt because he died protecting her. She is dating once again, going out with police officer Mike McNally, a kind person who wants to marry Merci and adopt her child. Merci cannot accept a permanent relationship.

Merci leads the investigation into the killing of high priced call girl Aubrey Whitaker. The homicide turns personal when Mike¿s fingerprints appear in the home of the deceased. Mike admits he had dinner with Aubrey the night she was murdered. Merci digs deep inside herself in order to find the fortitude to make the inquiries that will prove Mike¿s innocence, but each new clue points her towards the conclusion that her paramour is the shooter.

T. Jefferson Parker has written one of the better police procedurals of the first year in the new millennium. Fans of Ridley Pearson and Linda Fairstein will fully enjoy RED LIGHT because it is a novel that has as much heart as it does action. The heroine is a sympathetic character driven by emotional needs that the audience understands and empathizes with even though they will question some of her actions. The rich sub-plots add complexity to the fast-paced main story line. On a score from a high five to a low one, this book is a strong six.

Harriet Klausner

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It kept me guessing, with good twists and turns. I couldn't put it down (and I loved the large print). I highly recommend this book. --K--
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
First, I couldn't keep the 2 cases straight and separate. Next, I just have no feeling and no compassion for the protagonist, Merci Rayborn. She wallows in self-pity and cares only for herself. When she does the right thing, it even seems bad and shallow minded. And please, give me good plotting and skip the political commentary. Too much unnecessary John Birch info. It didn't feel right it felt more scripted. If you buy this at the bargain price and you're on a transoceanic flight, it'll be great. You'll go right to sleep.
Guest More than 1 year ago
T.Jefferson Parker does it again! The master at his best. He creates such good stories, and great plots it's hard to put the books down. Merci Rayborn is a down-to-earth detective, not a superhero who wins at the end of the day. Treat yourself to some good reading!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
There is a problem with this book. It was so spellbinding I could not get another thing accomplished till I had finished it. Please Mr. Parker hurry to write another sequel so we can find out what Merci does with her life. THE BLUE HOUR and RED LIGHT are not enough. Thanks for the wonderful read...Millie Atwell
Guest More than 1 year ago
In RED LIGHT, T. Jefferson Parker¿s sequel to THE BLUE HOUR, Sergeant Merci Rayborn of the Orange County Sheriff Department returns to investigate the murder of a prostitute. It¿s been two long years since the Purse Snatcher killed her partner and lover, Tim Hess, and the emotional pain and guilt still haven¿t gone away. Her father has moved in with her to help with little Tim, Jr. and to try and ease the fears that have overwhelmed her during the past twenty-four months. As she and her new partner, Paul Zamorra, dig deeper into the dead prostitute¿s life, the crime scene evidence starts to point to another police officer, Mike McNally, as the perpetrator¿a man she has been dating for several months. Merci doesn¿t want to believe that her lover could be the killer, but as the evidence begins to pile up, she soon realizes that there may be no choice but to take him down. If that wasn¿t enough, Merci is asked by her boss to take a look at a thirty-year-old case in which another prostitute was murdered. As she works on the second case, it soon becomes clear that the death of the two prostitutes may be connected and that higher-ups in the Sheriff Department could be involved. It won¿t be long before Merci will have to make a choice as to whether or not to betray her lover and to risk her life and career by going after the men who murdered a woman three decades ago out of greed and political gain. RED LIGHT is a powerful character study of a female police officer who must combat her own personal demons, while at the same time seeking revenge against those who murdered two women over a thirty-year time span. Merci will find herself in a position of not knowing whom to trust and will even begin to question her own judgment. Filled, however, with an inner strength and a dog-like determination, our heroine will throw caution to the wind and plow ahead in order to find the truth. At the end of this journey for retribution, Merci will finally discover that truth has its price and that betrayals may take years to heal and to forgive. T. Jefferson Parker has written a stark novel about life, death, and what it means to be a human being, demonstrating his unique gift at being able to create primary and secondary characters that live and breath¿characters that come alive in such a way as to draw the reader into the story as if they were actually participating in it themselves. All of his characters are flawed and must learn to deal with the obstacles that life throws at them. Some will succeed and others will not. The one theme that comes across so strongly in RED LIGHT is that we can¿t always do it by ourselves and must occasionally allow others to offer us a helping hand. It demands a certain element of trust and sometimes that¿s the hardest thing to give. RED LIGHT is not an action-packed novel, but rather a hard, poignant look at what it¿s like to be a woman who also happens to be a mother and a police officer and the choices that have to be made in a man¿s world. This novel will definitely leave you wanting more, and I hope Mr. Parker will bring back Merci Rayborn for at least one more outing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
On a scale of one to five I give it a 10. Best novel I've read in quite a while. This sequel to The Blue Hour has fine prose, is a great whodunit and most of all has terrific characterization. The mystery involves past and present crimes, but I found it harder to solve because I was so engrossed in the characters. They are very vividly drawn and beautiful in a strange way. I reread this advance copy, to see what I liked so much about it and realized it was better than I thought. I've really enjoyed every book Mr. Parker has written, but this is the best so far. I'd say it is just about perfect. This is a sequel and I would strongly encourage reading The Blue Hour first.