T. Jefferson Parker

Merci Rayborn - Detective, Orange County Sheriff's Department,
Southern California

"Black Water"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer AUG 01, 2002)

"Let's get you back to the medical center then," said Merci (to Archie).

"I'm thinking about that. But I want some more time here. I look at her pictures and I see her things. And I smell her. And it feels like a light is about to go on. Like I'm about to bring something up out of black water."

Merci Rayborn's newest case once again forces her to look to her own department for answers. Deputy Archie Wildcraft is found barely alive with a bullet in his skull just a few feet from his front door. Inside the bathroom is his wife, shot to death with his gun. The circumstances are suspicious, and all the evidence points squarely at him. Merci is reluctant to believe the evidence, not only because everyone she talks to believes Archie to be so in love with Gwen that he couldn't possibly have hurt her, but because her willingness to believe the evidence when it stacked up against another member of her department cost her so much. She likes Archie, and she doesn't want to believe that he did it. To prove him innocent, despite pressure not to, she must not only find his killer, but discover the source of the Deputy's financial riches, and their link to a criminal organization.

Read excerptIn this series, each book builds upon the other. In The Blue Hour, a criminal manages to trick her, to come out at her from a blind spot, and by this deception rob her of someone she loved. This figured highly on her action in Red Light, where she fought hard not to be deceived, but her willingness to trust the evidence blinds her to the truth. These things dictate her actions in Black Water. She hurt people she loved, she made some mistakes that really hurt her, and she doesn't want to see that happen again. She doesn't want to wreck this nice young man's life for nothing. The point to this is that Merci learns, she evolves very noticeably through her actions. It makes her interesting, and fresh, because like you or I, when she gets burned, she learns from her mistakes. It also makes her very human.

Another wondrous thing about her is her capacity to love...on the outside, especially in Red Light, she seems like a pretty hard woman. She has a shell, a very necessary shell built to keep her safe from a lot of the pain and suffering that is so much a part of being a homicide investigator. This shell was also built from the loss of Tim's father. In this book, we see her willingness to move on from lost loves and open herself to genuinely care for the people around her. This capacity for love makes for some really lovely, and some very sad scenes. I like seeing her reach out a bit, opening up. It makes her a stronger person, and a better investigator. The scenes with her son are also wonderful...in many ways she is more truly defined as a person when we see her with Tim. There is a thoughtful silence in some of the scenes with her son, a peacefulness that shows us better than a statement from the heroine that Tim is the balancing center of her world.

This book has some marvelous moments. There are a few scenes of incredible magic and sweetness that I wish I could tell you about, but they are skillfully woven in with the rest of the story, and their full impact is lost unless you see the whole picture. Parker manages to create some incredibly evocative experiences for the reader without losing the momentum of his story.

T. Jefferson Parker is a formidable crafter of tales, someone who I admire as much as I enjoy.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 69 reviews

Read an excerpt from Black Water at MostlyFiction.com

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"Red Light"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer AUG 01, 2002)

"She listened to the waves. To the Traffic. To the little kitchen TV turned low: an evangelist bleating for money. To the clump of someone on the old walkway. To her heart, fast and heavy in her chest. Merci felt most alive when working for the dead. She'd always loved an underdog."

Merci Rayborn is an ambitious detective, a woman whose drive has been tempered but not weakened by her past. She has given birth to a son, a tiny bundle of perfection that is her world, and the only pleasant memory of her romance with Tim Hess, a partner and lover that she lost two years ago. She's dating Mike McNally, whose golden looks and gentle competence has made him a popular man on the force. She's a woman desperately searching for some sort of peace, but the case that she's about to be faced with will strip that away.

Aubrey Whittaker is murdered in her beautiful shore side apartment. There are few facts that are clear...she was having dinner and she knew the man who killed her because she opened the door for him. She was a prostitute, and so her clients are on top of the list of suspects, but it is the discovery of Mike's prints and Mike's slightly suspicious letters to the girl that hurt Merci's world. She sneaks into his house and conducts a search, and the results are not favorable. The real battle isn't really finding Aubrey's murderer, but how Merci can deal with the probability that the man she sort of loves did it, coupled with the disgust she feels for her actions.

This is not the only murder Merci must solve. She is assigned a cold case from 1969, the murder of another prostitute named Patty Bailey. Patty was hanging out with some very important people...and her sister claims that Patty knew the culprits of a viscous beating that made major headlines back then. Merci is literally handed clues from an unknown source; and discovering the source's motives is almost as important as the crime itself. Patty and Aubrey's cases make for an interesting contrast, for both women were very different, and the cases are both fascinating, woven together in odd ways despite the fact they have no real link.

The thing that I like the most about this story is Merci. She has been scarred by her past mistakes. A killer deceived her, and that fear of deception haunts her. There is one scene, where she tries on one of Aubrey's brand new outfits, trying to see herself through Mike's eyes, trying to discover what Mike was thinking...and it becomes incredibly poignant. The theme of this book becomes about how the people around us deceive us...how our own thinking often tricks us into believing things we shouldn't. Merci is always thinking things out carefully, yet she knows there are blind spots. There were blind spots in her relationship with Mike that come brutally to light when she discovers his relationship with Aubrey. By the end of the book, most people in some way will have lied to her, which is ironic since she has paid the price for being deceived before, and is trying very hard not to pay it again. She feels very real, and the way she thinks, the things she worries about, the way she always checks the back seat and the way she acts around her son all make up for a very strong character, one I felt compassionately for, even as I admired her.

This is the second Merci Rayborn book. Blue Hour is the previous book, and Black Water is the next. I look forward to seeing how Merci develops and makes peace with her world.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 92 reviews

Read an excerpt from Red Light at T. Jefferson Parker's website

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Merci Rayborn series:

Sheriff Charlie Hood series:


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

T. Jefferson ParkerT. Jefferson Parker was born in Los Angeles and has lived all his life in Southern California. His writing career began in 1978, as a cub reporter on the weekly newspaper, The Newport Ensign. After covering police, city hall and cultural stories for the Ensign, Parker moved on to the Daily Pilot newspaper, where he won three Orange County Press Club awards for his articles. All the while he was tucking away stories and information that he would use in his first book.

In 1980 Parker was hired by the Orange Coast Daily Pilot. By then, he was already working evenings and weekends on his first novel, Laguna Heat, a project that he ended up rewriting six times. He left the Daily Pilot in 1982 and took a job as a technical editor at Ford Aerospace Communications Corp.

In 1985, Laguna Heat was published to rave reviews and was made into an HBO movie starring Harry Hamlin, Jason Robards and Rip Torn. The paperback made the New York Times Bestseller list in 1986.

After the success with his first novel, he decided to become a full-time writer. Parker's books-all dealing with crime, life and death in sunny Southern California-have each been published to uniformly good reviews and have appeared on various regional bestseller lists.

In addition to being a successful novelist, Parker continues his career in journalism. He is an occasional contributor to the Los Angeles Times Book Review and Los Angeles Times Magazine, and for three years wrote a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times Orange County Edition called "Parker's Place."

He lives with his family in Southern California. When not working on his books, Parker spends his time with his family, hiking, hunting and fishing, and haunting the public tennis courts. He enjoys diving, snorkeling, and travel. He escapes to a trailer in the desert in the spring and fall, to hike the country and not answer telephones.


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