“Strong Rain Falling” (Forge), by Jon Land
The first four novels in Jon Land’s Caitlin Strong series read like episodes from the “Die Hard” franchise, with the swaggering, trigger-happy female Texas Ranger standing in for the preposterously heroic John McClane. But in “Strong Rain Falling,” the author seems to have dropped his heroine into the middle of a James Bond movie.
The tense, suspenseful plot begins when gunmen attempt to assassinate the two teenage children of Cort Wesley Masters, the reformed mob enforcer who is Caitlin’s love interest. As Cort and Caitlin try to find out why someone wants the boys dead, they uncover a diabolical plan to plunge the United States into the Dark Ages.
The scheme is the brainstorm of Ana Callas Guajardo, a powerful Mexican national with a lust for power, a bone-deep hatred of America and a secret high-tech lair reminiscent of Blofeld and Goldfinger. Guajardo even has a psychotic, almost superhuman, henchman who brings to mind Bond characters like Jaws and Oddjob.
Land created Caitlin, the scion of four generations of legendary Texas Rangers, when he realized how scarce female heroes were in the thriller genre. Now he’s provided her with a female villain worthy of her prowess.
Working with Caitlin and Cort is the usual supporting cast including her long-suffering boss, Capt. D.W. Tepper; their menacing friend, Guillermo Paz; and the meddling Homeland Security agent who calls himself Jones.
As usual in a Caitlin Strong novel, the plot has roots deep in the Lone Star State’s past. This time it’s the early 19th-century genesis of the Mexican drug trade and the Texas Rangers’ border struggle with Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. This allows Land to lace his story with tidbits of Texas Rangers lore. That and details about America’s vulnerability to attack give the novel a veneer of seriousness, but as usual, the appeal of a Caitlin Strong novel lies in its improbable, over-the-top action scenes. The history may intrigue you — and the portrayal of America’s vulnerability may scare you — but mostly the novel is just rollicking no-holds-barred fun.
Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of “Cliff Walk” and “Rogue Island.”