Silent Joe, by T. Jefferson Parker

The weekend was beautiful, and so was today. High temperatures around, or above, freezing. We may not really deserve a mild stretch like this, but we feel as if we do.

In church on Sunday, among the praise songs our worship team had chosen for us was a number which contained (I’m not making this up) the following lines:

So much holy

So divine

Yours and so much mine….

Our God reigns

Over the heavens

Over the earth

Our God reigns

Praise His name

All still standing

All that was

All that remains

Our God reigns

I can feel my brain cells atrophying just on account of transcribing those inane lyrics. In what way, I ask, is singing such content-free drivel (over and over, of course) any different from chanting “Om” in a Transcendental Meditation center?

Commenter Aitchmark told me about T. Jefferson Parker’s mystery novel, Silent Joe, and I ordered it out of curiosity. I found it a compelling book. Flawed, but as fascinating as any novel I’ve read in a long time.

Joe Trona, the narrator and hero of the book, is the adopted son of Will Trona, an Orange County (California) supervisor. He works as a jailer, on his way to a police career, but at night he helps Will with “delicate” business—serving as his driver and bodyguard for trips and meetings and exchanges that he doesn’t want publicly known. Joe has no problem with this. He has complete faith that Will is a good man, and any corners he cuts are cut in a good cause.

Joe is tall, strong, a trained martial artist and a crack shot. He’s handsome, except that an act of abuse by his birth father left him with a serious scar on his face. Joe has cultivated good manners in order to be unthreatening, and he generally wears a hat to shade his features, but he’s profoundly self-conscious.

One night he and Will make a mysterious run that involves delivering some money and picking up a little girl. Then they are ambushed. Although Joe manages to kill two of the attackers and get the girl out of the line of fire, he can’t protect Will, who is shot to death. The rest of the book chronicles Joe’s quest to learn who set up the murder, and why it was done.

As a pure mystery, I can’t give Silent Joe the highest marks. Although political affiliations are not explicitly stated, it becomes clear pretty early on who are the Democrats and who are the Republicans. And once you’ve identified the Republicans, you know who’s guilty. Only the details remain to be worked out.

By the way, here’s a tip (but only a minor spoiler) for any liberal mystery novelists who happen by—it’s been about forty years since unmasking a white, male Christian clergyman as a hypocrite and degenerate has had any surprise value. We figured out a long time ago that whenever you introduce a white, male Christian clergyman, he’s going to turn out to be a hypocrite and a degenerate. If you want to actually surprise anyone, try doing something we haven’t seen a thousand times. Show us an ethical clergyman, or a sympathetic Republican, or a Muslim terrorist. Mix it up a little.

Although the mystery was no great shakes, the writing and the characterizations in Silent Joe were absolutely top level. Parker writes prose with great precision and grace. Not a word is misplaced. And although I probably identify more with Joe Trona than most people do, I think everyone will find him a fascinating character, at once tough and vulnerable, dangerous and child-like, smart and innocent.

There’s a particular section where Joe meets a woman, finds her attractive, and works up his nerve to ask her out. I actually had to put down this un-put-downable book a couple times because I had a hard time handling the tension. Those of you who can’t, like me, strongly identify with Joe’s shame issues will still (I think) find it an effective and moving episode.

I generally just drop liberal novels if I find them politically strident or condescending. I never had much trouble with Silent Joe. The story and the characters kept me riveted, and I enjoyed it very much.

Some rough language. Some sex, but not explicit (rather well handled, I thought) and violence. Not a perfect book, but a very, very, good one.

2 thoughts on “Silent Joe, by T. Jefferson Parker”

  1. I thought that was a good review Lars. I remember looking at this book at the library… and almost picking it up. My rule is (and it might be unfair) if you can tell what ‘party’ someone is from by reading a novel… you’re reading a bad novel. (This would be more difficult in a multi party state like Italy :=)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.