Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong is back in Jon Land’s latest novel, Strong Darkness. Her sixth adventure finds Caitlin on the hunt for a serial killer murdering women in a copycat style that hits close to home: her great-grandfather, Ranger William Ray Strong, scoured the Texas rail lines for a killer with the same M.O. in 1883. Caitlin’s search leads her to Chinese billionaire Li Zhen, the head of a company manufacturing America’s 5G network, and to a young Chinese prostitute named Kai, a woman on the run with a mysterious agenda. As Caitlin tries to piece together the mystery and find the killer, she’ll have to race against time to stop a mass slaughter in the technology age. Returning alongside Caitlin in this story are former outlaw Cort Wesley Masters, his sons Luke and Dylan, and philosophical ex-assassin Guillermo Paz. While Caitlin and her rag-tag group of hardcore peace-keepers hunt a serial killer in the age of technological cunning, the narrative jumps back to 19th century Texas where William Ray Strong works alongside the famous Judge Roy Bean to uncover a mirror-image mystery. As with the previous book in the series, last year’s Strong Rain Falling, Land expertly navigates the territory of history, balancing two sides of one intricate puzzle with aplomb. While the quick scenes - presented in short yet adrenaline-charged chapters - transition back and forth from Caitlin and Paz in Texas, Cort Wesley in New York City, and William Ray in 1883, the narrative guides the reader along seamlessly. The mystery of the present is made up of several storylines, making for a full novel in just the contemporary aspect alone, but adding to that the element of history gives the novel an even richer sense of adventure.
It doesn't hurt that Land writes such disarming characters. Often quietly humorous, they're smart and savvy, always with a strong sense of moral duty. Their unconventional quirks – Paz, the reformed Mexican killer; Cort Wesley, the straight-shooting felon – add to their charm in a way that makes them refreshing and far from feeling contrived. Although Land does a superb job crafting his intricate mysteries and bringing Texas past and present to vivid life, in the end it’s his characters who will stay with readers long after the final page has been turned. We show up for the characters, and we stay for the thrill ride. As for Caitlin, she comes to life from the pages with as much fire as ever, proving herself as one of the most memorable characters of the genre.
In Strong Darkness, the fast-paced energy of the action is matched by the expanse of the story, which touches on Chinese culture, American history, the harrowing world of human-trafficking, and the underbelly of the Internet all at once (some of which is terrifying when the reader discovers that it's based on fact). It’s a lot of material, and Land handles it deftly, delivering an all-nighter of a story, complete with nail-biting suspense, blazing action scenes, and characters that we won't soon forget.