The Blue Hour

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

T. Jefferson Parker’s The Blue Hour is more than a standard serial killer yarn. Its killer’s method is sufficiently horrific and his victims are sufficiently vulnerable to satisfy addicts of the genre, but Parker seldom indulges in shock for the sake of shock. Rather, the narrative emphasizes the complex relationship that develops between the killer’s two principal pursuers.

Tim Hess, an aging and thrice-divorced cop, is undergoing treatment for lung cancer. His partner on the case, Merci Rayborn, is a generation younger than Hess, and, while Hess lives out a resigned acceptance of human limitations and mortality, she looks to a future in which she expects to rise quickly to the highest levels of the police hierarchy. In fact, the superior officer responsible for uniting Hess and Rayborn has an agenda of his own. Hess, a reliable old timer, is expected to keep a wary eye on Rayborn, whose reputation as a troublemaker has been confirmed, in the eyes of many of the men in the department, by the sexual harassment case she has filed against a fellow officer. The gradual growth of respect, trust, and affection between this ill- sorted pair is portrayed movingly and convincingly, at least until its regrettably forced last stages.

Another major character is Matamoros Colesceau, a convicted sex offender who may or may not be involved in the crimes Hess and Rayborn are investigating. A substantial part of the action is presented through Colesceau’s eyes, and, if he never becomes a fully realized character, he does provide an effectively disturbing viewpoint.

Parker never develops the possibilities within his characters and situations sufficiently to justify any weighty claims for The Blue Hour as literary art, and his viewpoint switching is an instance of a technique that is sometimes merely facile. On balance, though, The Blue Hour provides readers with an hour and more of quality suspense, a bit more substance than one might expect, and the possibility of a sequel.