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By T. Jefferson Parker

Harper, 2008, c2007 ($7.99)
ISBN-10: 0060854243
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-085424-9

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

In Southern California in 1980, it was no longer considered cool to be a high school drum major, but Matt Stromsoe had always wanted to be one, and was happy to get the job. He met Mike Tavarez through the band, and they became friends. Matt was a straight arrow, Mike a brilliant kid from the Hispanic ghetto. Everyone had high hopes for the boys.

The first sentence in the book is chilling: "Stromsoe was in high school when he met the boy who would someday murder his wife and son." Flash forward two decades. Matt has become a lawman; Mike took a different path, becoming the head of one of the most ruthless branches of the Mexican Mafia. Matt wakes up in a hospital, gravely injured, to learn that his wife and son had died in an explosion meant for him. Mike goes to prison, but that doesn’t stop him from running his crime empire, or from continuing his vendetta against Matt, whom he holds responsible for the death of someone he loved.

Grief brings Matt to his knees, and the passage of time doesn’t make it any easier. He recovers from his physical wounds, but his soul died with his family. He takes a "geographic cure," moving from place to place, drinking himself into oblivion. After two years of this self-destructive lifestyle, his best friend tracks him down and drags him back into the world, getting him into rehab and giving him a job in his PI firm. His first assignment is to watch over Frankie Hatfield, a TV weather girl who’s being stalked. This turns out to be much more than a simple case of a deranged fan -- Frankie has a secret project, and the outcome could mean billions to the company who has control of it, or financial ruin if it gets into the wrong hands.

Despite his intent to keep things on a professional footing, his feelings for Frankie grow. Once again someone he cares for is in danger, from the shadowy people who want her project at any cost, and from his old friend Mike, who does not intend to stop until he takes everything from Matt for a second time.

Parker is a master story teller, and this is one of his best books yet. Old fans and new readers won’t be disappointed.

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