Strong As Steel (Caitlin Strong Novels) by Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

Strong As SteelThe tenth time is clearly the charm for the in dominatable Jon Land whose decennial effort in his Caitlin Strong series, Strong as Steel, cements his Texas Ranger’s status as the best female protagonist in thriller fiction today and maybe ever.

The high-octane plot features the classic thriller staple of a long buried, and of course deadly, secret being unearthed, this time from the Texas desert. Caitlin’s father Jim Strong, apparently, was somehow involved in burying three shipping crates there twenty-five years before as part of a case he was working on. Indeed, a particular staple of this series is the seamless intermixing of the past and the present, with Caitlin picking up on a trail left by one of her ancestors. It was William Faulkner who said, “The past isn’t dead, it’s not even past.” Well, nothing describes Strong as Steel better than that, with “dead” being the operative word.

But Caitlin isn’t the only one on the trail of the contents of those three crates; far from it, in fact. Hot on their trail, and hers, is Molinari, an especially maniacal head of an especially fanatical band of religious zealots out to safeguard a two-thousand-year-old secret at all costs. Being once set ablaze by his enemies has left Molinari almost literally faceless and he has long pursued his quest with a degree of violence and rage befitting the grotesque he’s become.

True to form, of course, what we think everyone’s after tells only part of the story. In addition to that figuratively deadly secret buried in the desert lies a weapon that’s deadly in the literal sense. Good thing Caitlin won’t have to chase down the truth alone, with her indestructible protector Guillermo Paz and outlaw lover Cort Wesley Masters along for the ride. The giant Paz is his typically inimitable self, this time out cast working at a daycare center as the next step in his spiritual re-invention. Cort Wesley, though, is a bit worse for wear, having suffered a warning stroke that leads the ghost-like visage of his old friend Leroy Epps to comment, “Guess you’re not so invincible after all.”

The last book in the series, Strong to the Bone, featured Caitlin finally getting a chance to catch the man who sexually assaulted her twenty years before. So I guess it’s Cort Wesley’s turn this time to face a crisis that defines the emotional resonance of a tale that typifies Land’s penchant for blending ten tons of plot with characters who can more than handle the weight. In that respect, his Caitlin Strong series has come to resemble the work of James Lee Burke’s superb Dave Robicheaux novels, books that make our blood boil even as our pulse is racing.

Strong as Steel is a gut-punch of a thriller that packs a wallop on every page, a mind-numbing tale that corkscrews through multiple plotlines toward arriving at a wholly satisfying conclusion. That’s the thing about Caitlin Strong and Jon Land: They both shoot straight and hit the bullseye every time. So hitch up your holster and strap yourself in for a wild, exhalating ride that leaves you holding on for dear life.