by Sandra Murphy
& Jon Land
This week we have a review of Strong From the Heart By Jon Land and an interesting guest post by Jon about modern day western heroes. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and links to purchase it.
Strong From the Heart A Caitlin Strong Novel by Jon Land
Review by Sandra Murphy
In 1898, Texas Ranger William Ray Strong went to Mexico to arrest Pancho Villa. Things didn’t exactly turn out as expected. The town’s children have been kidnapped and it’s up to the Ranger, with the help of Villa, to get them back.
Caitlin Strong is William Ray’s descendant, and a Ranger, too. It runs in the family. She’s up against a most puzzling case. All the residents of a small Texas town died during the night and no one has an explanation for what happened to them. As if that’s not enough, her significant other, Cort Wesley Masters, has a major problem of his own when his youngest son overdoses and nearly dies. Intent on bringing down the people responsible for the influx of available drugs, little does Cort know that his plot for revenge and Caitlin’s investigation will merge into one. What’s worse is Caitlin’s half sister, Nola, is her main backup—and involved with Cort’s older son.
Big Pharma, street dealers, pill pushing storefronts, all are in the sights of the Ranger. They don’t stand a chance. Oddly enough, it’s connected to that old tale about Strong and Villa rescuing the missing children.
Caitlin is a strong, complex woman, not afraid to show her feelings, whether that means fury at the dealers, borderline hate for her half sister, encompassing love for Cort’s sons, and the man himself.
This fast-paced mystery/thriller will have readers holding their breath for pages. Caitlin’s fearless approach, with the help of Guillermo Paz, former Mexican general, Cort, Nola, will get the job done, no matter the risk.
Jon Land also writes the Murder She Wrote books, after the death of original author Donald Bain. Although the MSW books have been updated and have acquired a slightly edgier tone, they remain cozy mysteries. The Caitlin Strong books are definite thrillers, with shootouts, explosions, and multiple bodies. There are ten books in the series, with Strong as Steel reviewed here. It quickly became a favorite series for me.
The Ten Best Modern-Day Western Heroes
By Jon Land
When asked about my Caitlin Strong series, I always describe them as modern-day westerns. And, in fact, the thriller form itself owes a great deal of its heritage to that genre. Having grown up with the films of Audie Murphy and Roy Rogers, not to mention classics like Shane, The Magnificent Seven, and High Noon along with a host of TV shows, westerns were everywhere. So you might say Caitlin Strong was many years in the making. With all that in mind, I thought it would be fun to assemble a list of the best book series that can be best classified as following the western motif.
Lee Child’s Jack Reacher: The most quintessential of the lot. Think about it. Instead of a horse, Reacher rides a bus or a train. He shows up in a town, sometimes a city, wipes out the bad guys, then gets back on the bus or train and moves on to his next step to repeat the process all over again. Here, as in westerns, we see staples like weak or ineffectual law enforcement, corruption and, often, one big bad villain running herd over it all. Until Reacher arrives, that is.
C. J. Box’s Joe Pickett: Box’s seminal Wyoming game warden resembles the federal marshal of western lore in that he is the only real law for hundreds of square miles. And, like plenty of western lawmen, he has a morally-challenged sidekick in the deadly Nate Romanowski who plays Doc Holliday to Pickett’s Wyatt Earp. And the villains the pair take on time after time bear an intrinsic connection to the kind of cattle barons and land grabbers battling over the likes of mineral and water rights. Kind of like going forward in reverse.
Craig Johnston’s Longmire: Walt Longmire is the kind of crusty, middle-aged sheriff made famous as anti—or, at least, reluctant—heroes in classic westerns. Normally, they have one more fight left in them, but Longmire never seems to run out of punches. Brilliantly played by Robert Taylor on the TV show, this small-town sheriff with big problems on his plate is a cultural anachronism who brings the times to him instead of adapting. And when things go bad, as is so true in the lore of westerns, he’s all the town has to turn to.
Elmore Leonard’s Raylan Givens (Justified): Arguably the great author’s greatest creation, the character made famous by the hit FX show appeared in two novels (Riding the Rap and Pronto), in addition to a collection of short stories. Timothy Olyphant’s wondrously realized performance opened with him gunning down Miami gangster Tommy Bucks…because Bucks didn’t leave town in his allotted twenty-four hours. But the episode that featured a hitman who’s “killed more men than malaria” coming to town gunning for Raylan fit the western motif to a T, right down to the climactic shootout where our stalwart deputy US Marshal literally outdraws his opponent.
Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon: Barr’s park ranger is the lone woman on this list, in large part because the classic western doesn’t serve up a lot of female gunfighters. Pigeon proves an exception to that rule, a traveling from one national park to another on the trail of this crime or that, a female Jack Reacher with portfolio. And, as with that series and many westerns, the hero is cast in the role of the nomadic stranger, lacking roots, and traveling with only what she can carry (still more than Reacher’s famed toothbrush!) on her back. Every stop along the way becomes a new beginning, Pigeon showing up often where she’s needed the most and wanted the least.
Ian Fleming’s James Bond: In many ways, the Cold War brought us the morphing of the western gunfighter hero, made famous in the dime novels of the early twentieth century, into the spy. The difference, of course, was that the likes of James Bond served a nation and had a license to kill legally. He carried a Walther PPK instead of a Colt Peacemaker and stopped marauding bad guys from destroying entire countries instead of just towns and took on rivals every bit his equal, like Oddjob and Red Grant, while climbing the ladder to the true masterminds out to fashion a new world order.
Richard Stark’s Parker: The stoically deadly Parker (perfectly played by Lee Marvin in the classic film Point Blank and based on The Hunter) embodies the very concept of what Shane author Jack Schaeffer called the “savior psychopath.” A bad guy who occasionally turns away from the dark side to sample the light. Parker is as much a relentless force of nature as a human being. He’s not going to lose, and if you wrong him, violate his murky code of honor, expect violent repercussions. Like the outlaw who decides to save the town from bandits instead of helping them to burn it down.
Gregg Hurwitz’s Orphan X: In many ways Hurwitz’s modern-day gunslinger Evan Smoak is the neatest fit for the mold cast by westerns. He’s literally the stranger who rides in out of nowhere, the Man with No Name emerging form Italian spaghetti westerns or their American offspring such as High Plains Drifter. Like Parker, Smoak has a streak of moral ambiguity, but he tends to be more like Jack Reacher and Shane, when it comes to standing up for what’s right. A savior psychopath indeed.
Brad Taylor’s Pike Logan, Brad Thor’s Scot Harvath, and Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp: This trio of great thriller series that all emerged from the smoke of 9/11 feature the gunfighter morphing into special ops soldier, aka Navy SEALS of Delta Force operators. And to varying degrees all three cover one of the most dominant themes of the western: redemption. Like the gunfighters of old, Logan, Harvath, and Rapp face burnout and might rather put their worlds behind them, but their natures keep them fighting and killing. They are who they are, and we’re lucky to have them, just like Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and his family were lucky to have Shane.
Robert Crais’s Joe Pike: There’s nothing subtle about the former Recon Marine who started out as Elvis Cole’s sidekick, only to become the basis of a series centered around him on top of that. And in that sense, he’s about the purest throwback to gunfighters on this list, wielding a .357 magnum in place of an old-fashioned six-shooter. He’s as much like Jack Wilson (Jack Palance in the movie) as Shane, especially since Wilson exemplifies the man Shane used to be. Pike, on the other hand, is what he’s always been, sticking to a moral code that inevitably finds him sticking up for those who can’t stick up for themselves.
To enter to win a copy of Strong From the Heart, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “strong,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 29, 2020. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT WILL TAKE MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
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