Tim Hess is a semi-retired veteran cop staring at a death sentencehis own. In the throes of a losing battle against cancer, his time is literally running out. Three times divorced, childless, Hess is the classic loner copand he's happy to accept the job held out to him: tracking down a ruthless killer who's been abducting beautiful young women from Orange County. Merci Rayborn has a reputation for causing trouble. Brash, ambitious, and impatient, she hasn't devoted any time to her personal life, and she's not terribly popular with her peers or her superiorsa matter that isn't helped by the sexual harassment case she's recently filed against some fellow officers. Hess isn't thrilled to be taking orders from this difficult yet smart young woman. And he certainly isn't planning to fall in love with her. . . . Intricately plotted and surprisingly moving, The Blue Hour is T. Jefferson Parker's most compellingand satisfyingthriller yet.
About the Author
T. Jefferson Parker is the award-winning author of nine previous novels, including Silent Joe, The Blue Hour, and Red Lightwhich was nominated for an Edgar Award for best novel. He lives in Fallbrook, California.
Date of Birth:December 26, 1953
Place of Birth:Los Angeles, California
Education:B.A. in English, University of California-Irvine, 1976
Read an Excerpt
That Sunday evening Tim Hess lumbered down the sidewalk to the snack stand at 15th Street. The skaters parted but paid him no attention. It was cool for August and the red flag on the lifeguard house pointed stiff to the east. The air smelled of the Pacific and ketchup.
Hess got coffee and headed across the sand. He sat down on the picnic bench and squinted out at the waves. A big south swell was coming and the sea looked lazy and dangerous.
A minute later Chuck Brighton joined him at the table. His tie flapped in the breeze and his white hair flared up on one side then lay down again. He set a briefcase onto the bench and sat down beside it facing Hess. He tore open a pack of sugar.
"Hello, boss," said Hess.
"Tim, how are you feeling?"
"I feel damned good, considering. Just look at me."
Brighton looked at him and said nothing. Then he leaned forward on his elbows. He was a big man and when he shifted his weight on the wooden bench Hess could feel the table move because the benches and the table were connected with steel pipe. Hess looked at the angry waves again. He had lived his childhood here in Newport Beach, well over half a century ago.
"You'll have to feel damn good for something like this. I haven't seen anything like it since Kraft. It would have to happen now, six months after my best detective retires."
Hess didn't acknowledge the compliment. Brighton had always been as generous with his praise as he was with his punishments. They'd worked together for over forty years and they were friends.
"We can put you back on payroll as a consultant. Full time, and you get all the medical. Forget the Medicare runaround."
"That's what I'm after."
Brighton smiled in a minor key. "I think you're after more than that, Tim. I think you need a way to stay busy, keep your hand in things."
"There is that."
"He's got to be some kind of psychopath. There really isn't much to go on yet. This kinda guy makes me sick."
Hess had suspected but now he knew. "The National Forest dumps."
"Dump isn't really the word. But you saw the news. They both went missing from shopping malls, at night. Cops waited the usual forty-eight to take the missing persons reports. The first was half a year ago, the Newport woman. We found her purse and the blood. That was a month after she bought nylons at Neiman-Marcus, walked out and disappeared forever."
Brighton squared his briefcase, fingered the latches, then sighed and folded his hands on it.
"Then yesterday late, the Laguna one. A week ago she went to the Laguna Hills Mall and vanished from sight. Hikers found her purse. The ground near it was soaked in blood again--like the first. It'll hit the news tomorrow--repeat this, serial that. More mayhem on the Ortega Highway. Both the victims--apparent victims--were good people, Tim. Young, attractive, bright women. People loved them. One married, one not."
Hess remembered the newspaper picture. One of those women who seems to have it all, then has nothing at all.
He looked up the crowded sidewalk toward his apartment and drank more coffee. It made his teeth ache but his teeth ached most of the time now anyway.
"So, it's two sites off the Ortega in Cleveland National Forest, about a hundred yards apart. They're eight miles this side of the county line. Two patches of blood-stained ground. Blood-drenched is how the crime scene investigator described it. Scraps of human viscera likely at the second one. Lab's working up the specimens. No bodies. No clothing. No bones. Nothing. Just the purses left behind, with the credit cards still in them, no cash, no driver's licenses. Some kind of fetish or signature, I guess. They're half a year apart, but it's got to be the same guy."
"Everyday women's purses?"
"If bloodstained and chewed by animals is everyday."
"What kind of animals?"
"Hell, Tim. I don't know."
Hess didn't expect an answer. It was not the kind of answer the sheriff-coroner of a county of 2.7 million needed to have. But he asked because scavengers have differing tastes and habits, and if you can establish what did the eating you can estimate how fresh it was. You could build a time line, confirm or dispute one. It was the kind of knowledge that you got from forty-two years as a deputy, thirty in homicide.
We are old men, Hess thought. The years have become hours and this is what we do with our lives.
He looked at the sheriff. Brighton wore the brown wool-mix off-the-rack sport coats that always make cops look like cops. Hess wore one too, though he was almost half a year off the force.
"Who's got it?" asked Hess.
"Well, Phil Kemp and Merci Rayborn got the call for the Newport Beach woman. Her name was Lael Jillson. That was back in February. So this should be theirs, too, but there's been some problems."
Hess knew something of the problems. "Kemp and Rayborn. I thought that was a bad combination."
"I know. We thought two opposites would make one whole, and we were wrong. I split them up a couple of months ago. Phil's fine with that. I wasn't sure who to put her with, to tell you the truth. Until now."
Hess knew something of Merci Rayborn. Her father was a longtime Sheriff Department investigator--burg/theft, fraud, then administration. Hess never knew him well. He had accepted a pink-labeled cigar when Merci was born, and he had followed her life through brief conversations with her father. To Hess she was more a topic than a person, in the way that children of co-workers often are.
At first she was a department favorite, but the novelty of a second-generation deputy wore off fast. There were a half dozen of them. Hess had found her to be aggressive, bright and a little arrogant. She'd told him she expected to run the homicide detail by age forty, the crimes against persons section by fifty, then be elected sheriff-coroner at fifty-eight. She was twenty-four at the time, working the jail as all Sheriff Department yearlings do. In the decade since then, she had not become widely liked. She seemed the opposite of her soft-spoken, modest father.
Hess thought it amusing how generations alternated traits so nimbly--he had seen it in his own nieces and nephews.
"Tim, she filed that lawsuit Friday afternoon. Went after Kemp for sexual harassment going back almost ten years. Physical stuff, she says. Well, by close of the workday two more female deputies had told the papers they were going to join in, file suits too. The lawyer's talking class action. So we've got a lot of deputies taking sides, the usual battle lines. I was sorry Rayborn did it, because basically she's a good investigator for being that young. I don't know what to make of those complaints. No one's ever complained about Phil before, except for him being Phil. Maybe that's enough these days. I don't know."
Hess saw the disappointment. For a public figure Brighton was a private man, and he bore his department's troubles as if they sprung from his own heart. He had always avoided conflict and wanted to be liked.
"I'll try to fly under all that."
"What did the dogs find?" he asked.
"They worked a couple of trails between the sites and a fire road about a hundred yards south of the highway. The two trails were real close to each other--a hundred yards or so. He parked and carried them through the brush. Did whatever he does. Carried them back out, apparently. Besides that, nothing."
"How much blood?"
"We'll run saturation tests on soil from the new scene. Janet Kane was her name. With the first, most of it's dried up and decomposed. The lab might get some useful DNA. They're trying."
"I thought you'd find them buried out there."
"So did I. Dogs, methane probe, chopper, zip. A pea-sized part of my brain says they still might be alive."
Hess paused a moment to register his opinion on the subject of this hope. Then, "We might want to draw a bigger circle."
"That's up to you and Merci. Merci and you, to be exact. Her show, you know."
Hess turned and stared out at the riptides lacing the pale green ocean. He could feel Brighton's eyes on him.
"You do look good," said the sheriff. The breeze brought his words back toward Hess.
"I feel good."
"You're tougher than a boiled owl, Tim."
Hess could hear the sympathy in Brighton's voice. He knew that Brighton loved him but the tone pricked his pride and his anger, too.
The two men stood and shook hands.
The sheriff opened his briefcase and handed Hess two green cardboard files secured by a thick rubber band. The top cover was stamped copy in red.
"There's some real ugly in this one, Tim."
"Stop by Personnel soon as you can. Marge'll have the paperwork ready."
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
If T. Jefferson Parker isn't the best crime writer in America, I don't know who is.
Author of A Certain Justice
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was about what you'd expect from a police procedural about a serial killer preying on young women in Southern California. Detective Tim Hess is semi-retired and undergoing chemo for cancer when the sheriff pulls him in to work with Merci Rayborn, an ambitious deputy over forty years his junior. I could just see Clint Eastwood playing Hess--the dynamic between him and Rayborn reminds me of the one in the film In the Line of Fire, and the novel features a partnership that turns into romance. Rayborn is what I've come to find is a cliche in the mystery genre--the female cop with a reputation as someone impossible to work with. To be fair to Parker, Rayborn had a lot to put up with in her former partner, and it's not a matter of her just having a chip on her shoulder. This was an OK book if you devour this kind of fiction like peanuts. It flowed well, well-paced, the kind of novel you can open and escape for a few hours, but not one that left much of an impression.
This was a disappointing start to a series. The relationship between Rayborn and Hess was just too predictable from the outset and was therefore anti-climatic. The character of the 'dual bad guy' really needed some development as there were gaping holes in how he 'evolved' from past to current day and even something as simple as a motive was missing. The epilogue, though not officially presented as such, was really the most interesting pages of the entire book. It offered up a most annoying bit of information that should have been expanded on, while still managing to give a slight twist to the outcome of Rayborn and Hess.
Exceptional characterization. Loved the way T. Jefferson Parker slipped in vivid details whether they appeared to belong where he put them or not. Loved the more global insights, too. A master-class if you're an author, a powerful reading experience for anyone.
I bought this book because of good reviews. It starts ok but then it goes to such a bad story that I felt very cheated believing in all the good reviews. I found detailed description of embalming repulsive and completely unnecessary for the story. Don't buy this book.
T. Jefferson Parker's Merci series starting with Blue Moon is again a wonderful read, as all of I Mr. Parkers books are. Also read Red Light and Black Water, the second and third books in the series. Merci may seem a little "hard boiled", however, her sympathy comes through.
If you can read 'Blue Hour' without falling in love with Hess and Merci Rayborn....then you're not breathing. 'Blue Hour' cost me ten years of enamel off my teeth. Seldom does a writer draw you into the minds and emotions of his/her characters with such poignancy, such pathos, such empathy. Jeff's chracters are as real as your next-door neighbor..only infinitely more interesting and conplex. They go to bed with you. Jeffery Deaver is the master plotter, but Jeff Parker is the master spellbinder. I don't review Parker's books...I just pick them up and take them home. Don't call me, don't knock on my door...when I am reading a Jeff Parker book. Parker gets five stars (out of four) as far as I am concerned.
' a different type of detective story...one with great suspense,chills, and great ending.A sure to please novel by one great writer!
Ladies--always check the back seat of your car when getting into it at night, especially if you're out shopping at the malls. If you don't, the 'Purse Snatcher' may very well get you! This is the mantra expounded upon in T. Jefferson Parker's THE BLUE HOUR. Let me say right from the top that if you enjoyed WHERE SERPENTS LIE by Parker, then you most certainly will love this novel. THE BLUE HOUR is the story of Big Bill Wayne, a.k.a. the 'Purse Snatcher.' Big Bill has the looks of a blonde-haired model, eyes so sad that women just want to cuddle him, and a real deep passion for hunting beautiful ladies in the local malls. Big Bill doesn't rape the women he captures. No...no...no. This psychopath has a much broader spectrum of bizarre behavior. He like to kill his ladies, then embalm them for his own private collection. His moniker comes from the fact that he nearly always leaves the victim's purse behind as a signature...as a way of taunting the police, daring them to catch him. Well, the Orange County Sheriff Department is determined to do just that. They've called retired veteran, Tim Hess, back into service to help track down this nut case, and have paired him with Detective Merci Rayborn, a young, tough, no-nonsense kind of female cop who seems to have a chip on her shoulder the size of California. Rayborn, needless to say, is dead set on capturing this killer, and she's going to do it her way, without some old, decrepit, retired cop slowing her down, or trying to tell her how to do it. Hess, who is in the process of battling lung cancer, understands exactly where his partner is coming from, but he happens to have over forty years of experience behind him, and he knows how to get into the mind of a killer. The only thing he has to do is convince Rayborn to at least listen to his advice, if she really wants to catch the 'Purse Snatcher.' Together, if they don't kill each other first, they may just have a chance to nail this sucker. There is, however, one little catch that neither police officer is aware of. Having seen Merci Rayborn being interviewed on television by the news media, Big Bill has decided that it might be rather nice to add a cop to his collection. Who is the hunter and who is the hunted? Mr. Parker has written a gripping, tension-filled novel that honestly depicts the vulnerability of women in our society, and how easy it is for them to fall into the hands of someone like the 'Purse Snatcher' when it is least expected. The characters of Hess and Rayborn are realistically drawn and very much true to life in how each one suffers silently in their own unique way the outrageous misfortunes that often accompanies the process of being human. Hess has to deal with his own mortality, while Rayborn must come to grips with the fact that maybe she doesn't have as much control over her life as she thinks. THE BLUE HOUR is a real winner, and has an ending that is both sad and satisfying at the same time. This is a novel which I highly recommend to anyone looking for a quick, exciting read.
This book has a very suspenseful plot and great character development. I will be eagerly awaiting his next book.
A good read. I didn't want to put it down. It usually takes me at least a few weeks to finish a book, but I wrapped this one up in a few days. Unlike other reviewers here, I was a little disappointed at the ending. Just a little too sappy for me. I could have done without the last chapter.