Parker, T. Jefferson 1954-

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Parker, T. Jefferson 1954-

(Thomas Jefferson Parker)


Born 1954, in Los Angeles, CA; married (wife deceased, 1992); remarried; children: two. Education: University of California—Irvine, B.A., 1976.


E-mail—[email protected].


Writer. Worked as a reporter for newspapers, including the Newport Ensign and Daily Pilot.


Los Angeles Times Book Award in mystery/thriller category, Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel, Mystery Writers of America, and Dashiell Hammett Award nomination, all 2002, all for Silent Joe; Southern California Booksellers Association Book Award, 2003, for Cold Pursuit; Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel, 2005, for California Girl.



Laguna Heat, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1985.

Little Saigon, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1988.

Pacific Beat, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Summer of Fear, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993.

The Triggerman's Dance, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1996.

Where Serpents Lie, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.

The Blue Hour, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.

Red Light, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.

Silent Joe, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.

Black Water, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

Cold Pursuit, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2003.

California Girl, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2004.

The Fallen, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.

Storm Runners, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2007.

Also contributor to My California, 2004.


Several of Parker's books have been adapted as recordings, including The Fallen, Brilliance Audio (Grand Haven, MI), 2006.


Mystery novelist T. Jefferson Parker has earned critical respect for his contributions to the genre of the California crime story first established by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Though some reviewers have considered elements of Parker's novels overdone or too conventional, many critics have admired his suspenseful plotting and complex characterizations.

His first novel, Laguna Heat, tells the story of a Los Angeles cop, Tom Shephard, who resigned from the department after he shot a boy in the line of duty and who now works as a homicide detective. Shephard finds himself tracking down a psychopath who murders by stuffing money in his victims' throats, smashing their heads in with a rock, and setting the bodies on fire. Newsweek contributor Peter S. Prescott admired the way Parker balanced conventional thriller elements with variations on thriller themes. Though Prescott noted that Parker weakened his novel by giving his protagonist a sex scene—thereby violating the conventions of the chaste hero's contempt for the decadence and corruption around him—and by writing in the third person, the reviewer otherwise thought Laguna Heat "all works smoothly."

Parker followed Laguna Heat with Little Saigon, set in Orange County's Vietnamese community. The plot involves rival brothers, one of whom is married to a popular Vietnamese singer who is kidnapped during a performance. The crime touches on elements of political strife, gang activity, and personal revenge. A critic writing in Publishers Weekly considered Little Saigon a "workmanlike suspense thriller" that "permits few surprises."

Parker's next novel, Pacific Beat, elicited more enthusiasm from critics. It tells the story of brothers-in-law who confront police corruption, sleazy developers, and a known sex offender while investigating the murder of their sister. Library Journal contributor Rex E. Klett called the novel "an outstanding, memorable, and magnetic work" enhanced by sharp detail, impressive language, and sensitive characterizations. Kliatt contributor Paula Rohrlick also appreciated the novel's carefully observed detail, and noted that Parker "writes passionately and convincingly." New York Times Book Review contributor Marilyn Stasio, however, commented that although Parker is a "powerhouse writer," he crammed too many disparate plot elements together to make Pacific Beat wholly believable.

Stasio had only a slightly higher opinion of Parker's Summer of Fear, about a California serial killer. Though she admitted that the author created some "neat twists on the conventions" of the genre, she commented that Parker is "a heavy-handed writer … [whose] genre ingredients are routine." A Publishers Weekly contributor however, commended the novel's "taut pacing and plot twists," and Booklist contributor Wes Lukowsky deemed the book "unforgettable."

Parker's fifth novel, The Triggerman's Dance, tells the story of an undercover investigation. A Publishers Weekly contributor found the novel intelligent, well plotted, and exciting. Richard Bernstein, writing in the New York Times, praised The Triggerman's Dance for its complex characterizations and "vernacular eloquence." Pointing out some flaws in the novel, Bernstein commented that Parker did not delve as deeply as he might have done into the book's unsettling issues, but concluded that "The Triggerman's Dance has the psychological and moral complexity of a good novel of the American dark." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Bob Sipchen, though, considered the novel unconvincing and cliched. "The tone and details seem not so much imagined as implanted by distant memories of old TV," wrote Sipchen. He also cited evidence of "lazy craftsmanship" and "wobbly plot transitions."

Where Serpents Lie, Parker's 1998 novel, concerns the hunt for "The Horridus," a kidnapper who snatches a snake-loving child. A Publishers Weekly contributor hinted at some Melville-esque elements in the book, including the hero's "Ahab-like pursuit" of the madman and a prime suspect named Ishmael. The reviewer found some of Parker's material familiar, but enjoyed the novel's psychological complexity and thrilling pace.

More bizarre is Parker's 1999 novel, The Blue Hour, in which a chemically castrated rapist has set about killing women "and preserving their bodies for future use," as Stasio related in the New York Times Book Review. Stasio enjoyed the "wondrously weird characters" in the novel—a Parker trademark—and deemed the work "another insanely imaginative thriller."

In Red Light, police sergeant Merci Rayborn, also a character in The Blue Hour searches for the killer of a call girl. The investigation leads her to further study a thirty-year-old murder of a prostitute that implicates her fellow officers. The novel takes place in a gritty Southern California that does not have a future. Like most of Parker's books, dark and contemplative characters search for answers. A Publishers Weekly contributor observed that the story, "sizzles along, an infectious blend of atmosphere, action, and passion" but also noted that readers familiar with Parker's books might notice "formulaic twists."

A contributor to Publishers Weekly described Silent Joe as "Parker's most ambitious work to date." Lead character Joe has a disfigured face, the result of his father throwing acid on him when he was a baby. After being sent to an orphanage, he is adopted by a corrupt Orange County supervisor, who is later killed. Now a prison guard who wants to work for the sheriff's department, Joe kills the men who murdered his adoptive father and then sets out to discover an explanation for why he was killed. During his investigation, he realizes Will was not the honest man he thought. As in most of his books, reviewers praised Parker's abilities to string along a complex plot that comes together in the end. Library Journal contributor Rebecca House Stankowski explained: "Seemingly unconnected plotlines, vivid characterization, and real mystery merge to form a truly satisfying thriller." Silent Joe won the 2002 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

Black Water introduces readers to the Wildcrafts, a married couple who seem too happy to be true. After a brutal attack, Mrs. Wildcraft is dead and Archie, an officer with the Orange County Sheriff's department is nearly dead. Detectives suspect Archie of attempting a murder-suicide and failing. Merci Rayborn suspects differently. Under the pressure of a district attorney who wants a fast conviction, Merci relentlessly searches for the real killer. Booklist contributor Wes Lukowsky called this "a thoughtful, multilayered tale." However, not all reviewers found this to be exemplary of Parker's work. A Publishers Weekly contributor found Black Water was "lacking the kind of explosive finale that marks most of Parker's novels."

In Cold Pursuit, Detective Tom MacMichael leads a murder investigation during a rainy San Diego winter. Pete Braga, the victim, was the suspected murderer of MacMichael's grandfather, and a rich bigwig in the San Diego scene. Determined to perform a fair investigation, MacMichael follows the trail of evidence as it leads right back to himself. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called this book an "engrossing tale of a flawed hero redeemed by suffering," a description that would fit many of Parker's tales. Parker did receive some criticism on the conclusion of the novel. A Publishers Weekly contributor called it "rather improbable."

California Girl takes place in the 1960s, when Janelle Vonn witnesses her older brother beaten by a group of boys in an abandoned warehouse. Several years later, Janelle becomes a victim at the same location, and the men who did the beating when she was a child are determined to catch her killer. As the case is investigated, Parker introduces readers to a series of interesting characters, many of whom could be the killer, all of whom exhibit the usual characteristics of 50s and 60s stereotypes. Connie Fletcher, writing in Booklist, suggested that Parker might have made the times too much of a force in this novel when she commented that the book was written in an "extremely heavy-handed, lugubrious fashion, hitting readers over the head with ways in which the times touched the family." Some reviewers remarked that the book was a jewel of the genre. Entertainment Weekly critic Chris Nashawaty compared the writing to Raymond Chandler's and Dennis Lehane's and noted its "drum-tight prose and richly layered characters."

In The Fallen, Parker tells of Robbie Brownlaw, a San Diego cop who develops synesthesia, a neurological disorder in which the senses get jumbled. As a result of his problem, Brownlaw can see colored shapes when he hears people speaking, which can help him detect when someone is lying. He uses his new ability as he investigates the death of an ex-cop who had joined a watchdog group. His discoveries lead him to city hall and prostitution. Meanwhile, Brownlaw's wife has left him, leading him to ponder whether or not he really wants her. "His dialogue crackles and pops in an intricate and well-paced tale set in a city where shadowy characters lurk," wrote Allison Block in Booklist. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted: "Deftly plotted, gracefully written and, as usual with this savvy veteran …, it's the lead character you pay your money for." Gillian Flynn, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called the novel "a brainy, seriously entertaining piece."



Booklist, May 15, 1993, Wes Lukowsky, review of Summer of Fear, p. 1652; November 15, 1993, review of Summer of Fear, p. 640; June 1, 1996, Thomas Gaughan, review of The Triggerman's Dance, p. 1680; December 15, 1997, Wes Lukowsky, review of Where Serpents Lie, p. 667; February 1, 2000, Wes Lukowsky, review of Red Light, p. 996; February 15, 2001, Wes Lukowsky, review of Silent Joe, p. 1085; February 1, 2002, Wes Lukowsky, review of Black Water, p. 49; September 15, 2004, Connie Fletcher, review of California Girl, p. 180; February 1, 2006, Allison Brock, review of The Fallen, p. 6.

Entertainment Weekly, October 1, 2004, Chris Nashawaty, review of California Girl, p. 78; March 3, 2006, Gillian Flynn, review of The Fallen, p. 107.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2002, review of Black Water, p. 146; April 2, 2003, review of Cold Pursuit, p. 191; September 1, 2004, review of California Girl, p. 840; January 15, 2006, review of The Fallen, p. 59.

Kliatt, September, 1992, Paula Rohrlick, review of Pacific Beat, p. 15.

Library Journal, June 1, 1991, Rex E. Klett, review of Pacific Beat, p. 200; June 15, 1992, review of Pacific Beat, p. 119; July, 1993, Rex E. Klett, review of Summer of Fear, p. 126; January, 1998, Rebecca House Stankowski, review of Where Serpents Lie, p. 143; March 1, 2001, Rebecca House Stankowski, review of Silent Joe, p. 132; February 15, 2002, Rebecca House Stankowski, review of Black Water, p. 179; February 15, 2003, Jo Ann Vicarel, review of Cold Pursuit, p. 170; June 1, 2004, Ann Kim, review of California Girl, p. 109; October 15, 2004, Rebecca House, review of California Girl, p. 55; February 1, 2006, Ken Bolton, review of The Fallen, p. 73.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 22, 1993, review of Summer of Fear, p. 6; June 23, 1996, Bob Sipchen, review of The Triggerman's Dance, p. 6.

Newsweek, September 23, 1985, Peter S. Prescott, review of Laguna Heat, p. 72.

New York, July 3, 1989, Rhoda Koenig, review of Little Saigon, p. 142.

New York Times, August 2, 1996, Richard Bernstein, review of The Triggerman's Dance, p. B16, C28.

New York Times Book Review, July 7, 1991, Marilyn Stasio, review of Pacific Beat, p. 19; July 18, 1993, Marilyn Stasio, review of Summer of Fear, p. 17; July 21, 1996, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Triggerman's Dance, p. 25; August 2, 1996; May 23, 1999, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Blue Hour, p. 33; April 16, 2000, Marilyn Stasio, review of Red Light, p. 32; February 6, 2006, Timothy Peters, "T. Jefferson Parker: The Dark Side of the California Dream," author profile, p. 20; March 26, 2006, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Madman in the Attic.

Publishers Weekly, July 1, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Little Saigon, p. 67; May 24, 1993, review of Summer of Fear, p. 66; May 20, 1996, review of The Triggerman's Dance, p. 237; December 22, 1997, review of Where Serpents Lie, p. 38; February 7, 2000, review of Red Light, p. 60; March 19, 2001, review of Silent Joe, p. 78; February 4, 2002, review of Black Water, p. 49; February 10, 2003, review of Cold Pursuit, pp. 160-161; September 15, 2004, review of California Girl, p. 56; January 16, 2006, review of The Fallen, p. 37.


T. Jefferson Parker Home Page, (December 11, 2006).

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