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by T. Jefferson Parker
Hyperion, April 2002
388 pages
ISBN: 0786890037

SILENT JOE draws its title from one of many lessons the hero, Joe Trona, has been taught by his adoptive father: "Mouth shut, eyes open. You might actually learn something." Joe has paid attention, as he proves for us over almost 400 pages.

The book's action takes place when Joe Trona is 27 years old. He's a deputy sheriff by day, guarding with the most serious offenders in an Orange County CA prison. By night, Joe is personal bodyguard to Will Trona, who adopted Joe at age 5. Joe worships Will, and Will's wife (Joe's adoptive mother) Mary Ann. But right away something terrible happens. This terrible thing happens even before Joe is able, in his polite, hesitant first person narration, to tell us why he always wears a hat with a brim and why the prisoners call him "Shitface". What happens is: Will Trona gets murdered, assassinated, shot in the head while on his knees ... one night while Joe is guarding him. And of course, Joe blames himself, even though out of five assassins, Joe kills two.

Will was a full-time politician, an Orange County Supervisor. He has friends; he has enemies; he has friends who may be enemies. All of them are powerful and most of them have money. Lots of money. Because Joe's been driving for Will at night since he was 17, Joe knows them all. He has an eidetic memory -- he remembers word for word everything he sees and hears. Joe knows more about Will than anyone else alive, even Mary Ann.

SILENT JOE is the slowly unravelled, then re-knitted, story of Joe's life. His whole life, including the bits that even he has been unable to deal with until he's forced to by things he learns while investigating Will Trona's murder. Joe lets us know within the first few chapters exactly what happened to him when he was two ... but the rest takes longer. "The rest" includes a reunion with the mother who ran away on the same night of the abuse that could so easily have killed him. It includes a secret the monster-abuser who hurt Joe as a baby has been keeping his whole ugly life long. In the re-knitting part, it includes Joe falling in love with a woman who sees the soul, not the skin. And Joe does learn who killed Will Trona, and why, though in the process he also learns the kinds of things any of us would wish we didn't have to know about our parents.

Running in parallel with Joe's personal story, but intricately entangled -- Will Trona being the sticky glue that binds -- are the stories of a young girl, who wasn't so much kidnapped as ran away, and her strangely brilliant brother; the unbelievably wealthy parents of those two; a television preacher (fictional version of a well-known reverend with a huge, modern, glass cathedral) and his sicko bodyguard; and a number of Orange County politicians; and more rich guys who pull the strings behind the scenes. There are road scams and water scams and immigrant scams. All the minor characters are so vividly drawn that you feel as if you really know these people inside and out. This is a writer who has truly mastered his craft.

T. Jefferson Parker won the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allan Poe award for Best Novel of 2001 with SILENT JOE. He deserved to win.

Editor's Note: This review was written by the author of CUT TO THE HEART, Now out from Doubleday

Reviewed by Ava D. Day, May 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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