Review: Strong to the Bone by Jon Land

Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong takes on a gang of neo-Nazis in Strong to the Bone, an action-packed novel of the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series by Jon Land.

Jon Land is on the brink of mainstream superstardom, and his consistent excellence may just be the factor that tips the balance in his favor. He has written more than 40 novels in a celebrated career that has traversed genres and collaborators. These include the popular Blaine McCracken books as well as a critically acclaimed, award-winning series featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong; recent titles from the latter have earned the author distinctions, including the 2014 International Book Award and 2013 USA Best Book Award for Mystery-Suspense (Strong Rain Falling), the 2016 Beverly Hills Book Award for Best Mystery (Strong Light of Day), and the 2017 International Book Award for Best Action Thriller (Strong Cold Dead).

Land’s newest, Strong to the Bone—winner of the 2017 American Book Fest Best Book Award for Mystery-Suspense and the ninth thriller to feature Caitlin Strong—finds his protagonist in an introspective state, confronting internal demons as well as the ones she’s accustomed to eradicating with the quick draw of her gun. What begins as a rare date night out with her beau, Cort Wesley Masters, quickly turns sour when the two stumble upon a raging brawl between college fraternities at a local barbecue joint. The report of a sexual assault in progress reaches Caitlin, and she commandeers a fire engine to part the rowdy crowd and rescue the victim. It’s not exactly standard protocol, but Caitlin’s never been much for rules or rank.

Despite repeated warnings to drop the case, Caitlin—who is under investigation for shooting the alleged perpetrator—finds herself unable to distance herself. As we learn, she was the victim of an unsolved rape 18 years ago, which left a long-dormant wound that’s suddenly been ripped open. A(nother) shocking discovery that bridges the two events ensures her continued involvement, regardless of bureaucratic interference. Always assured in her methods and motives, Caitlin is now forced to reckon with the knowledge that her crime-busting crusades may be as much an unconscious result of that tragic night as an act of free will—and that the numerous targets she’s sighted in her crosshairs may all be reflections of one man. It’s a rare display of vulnerability, and one that makes her more human.

A master of multiple storylines that converge in surprising ways, Land does not disappoint here. In addition to the current case, Caitlyn is presented with a mystery dating back to 1944 when her grandfather, fellow ranger Earl Strong, was tasked with investigating a triple-murder that occurred at a Texas-based Nazi POW camp. (J Edgar Hoover cameos.) Though nearly lost to the annals of history, a series of revelatory discoveries proves to have bearing on a present-day neo-Nazi gang operating in the Lone Star State—the leader of which, Armand Fisker, has both the support of a self-made army and access to a deadly biological weapon that holds the potential to devastate mankind.

But there’s also a threat of a more personal nature. Fisker’s son, Ryan, and Cort Wesley’s eldest, Dylan, have become mortal enemies following a series of altercations in which Dylan has thwarted the younger Fisker and his gun-toting lackeys’ attempts to harass a group of illegal immigrants working at a local auto repair shop. To save face (and to impress his ambivalent father), Ryan initiates a blood feud, the unintended consequences of which lead Caitlin and Co. to a point of no return. Beyond exposing the prejudices that still persist today, this narrative thread is a subtle meditation on the oft tenuous bonds that exist between fathers and sons and how parenting can be the great equalizer.

While Land’s books are often touted as action-packed thrill rides (and rightly so), they’re also emotionally resonant and worldly relevant studies of how the past influences the present. The author doesn’t shy away from posing complex moral and ethical dilemmas, the likes of which supersede fiction. Indeed, his plotlines—though exaggerated for dramatic effect—are based in a reality that we’re all living. It’s one that holds the potential for both great promise and great peril, though uncertainty abounds.

Strong to the Bone is an outstanding work of fiction that should rank among the very best of Jon Land’s impressive oeuvre. In Caitlin Strong, he has crafted one of the most dynamic, compelling (and aptly-named) series protagonists of our age. Despite a preponderance of backstory, this book is both timely and thought-provoking and altogether urgent. While Caitlin shoots to kill (or at the very least, maim), Land aims to please—and together they’ve hit the mark!

Read an excerpt from Strong to the Bone!

 

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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.

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