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Killing Time for 'The Blue Hour'

Laguna Beach novelist T. Jefferson Parker faces mortality with a hero who's battling cancer, boredom and a serial murderer.


Meet Tim Hess, a recently retired 67-year-old Orange County Sheriff's Department homicide detective who is battling lung cancer--and boredom.

Called back to active duty when a serial killer takes another victim, Hess is teamed up with a brash, much younger, second-generation cop with a driving ambition to one day be elected sheriff-coroner in T. Jefferson Parker's latest mystery novel.

Hess and Merci Rayborn have their hands full in "The Blue Hour" (Hyperion; $23.95): The Purse Snatcher, who stalks his pretty, young victims at shopping malls, leaves no bodies behind. Only the victims' purses have been found on blood-soaked ground in the Cleveland National Forest off Ortega Highway.

Throw in a prime suspect--a paroled, chemically castrated Romanian rapist whose hormone treatments to reduce his sexual cravings have caused him to grow breasts--and a deepening relationship between the three-times-divorced veteran cop and his attractive young partner and the result, according to Kirkus Reviews, is Parker "in top form."

Publishers Weekly calls "The Blue Hour" an "unpredictable and dynamic" narrative that is "far more gripping than the average serial-killer thriller."

The novel is the seventh for Parker, whose 1985 debut murder mystery, "Laguna Heat," propelled the former Orange County newspaper reporter into the national spotlight and helped put Orange County on the map as a literary setting.

As Parker's previous thrillers have done, "The Blue Hour" exposes the dark underbelly of Orange County's seemingly safe, bland image.

The Purse Snatcher, who uses an embalming machine to preserve his victims for sexual purposes, is every bit as creepy as the Horridus, the snake-obsessed child predator in his 1998 novel "Where Serpents Lie."

As a writer, Parker finds serial killers fascinating.

"I like the way their evil is . . . easily traceable, and . . . the way they are obsessed and compulsive about what they do," he said in an interview. "The fact that they're not satisfied with one act [of violence] means that they're going to do it again. And that makes for a frightening criminal and a great plot line."

Parker said he became intrigued by California's 2-year-old chemical castration law, which mandates that repeat convicted child molesters receive weekly injections of the synthetic hormone Depo-Provera to lower their sex drives while they're on parole.

Matamoros Colesceau, the primary suspect in "The Blue Hour," is not a child molester, but he's a convicted rapist who volunteered to be chemically castrated as a condition of his parole.

Parker did his homework on the subject, reading studies on how Depo-Provera works and talking to law enforcement officials, social workers, sex-crime therapists, prosecutors and defense attorneys.

But that wasn't the impetus for his writing "The Blue Hour," he said. The character of Hess was: "The exploration of a tired, old, dying cop who has nothing better to do in life than chase these kinds of monsters around."

Parker, now 45, said that "sometime in the last couple of years, I've had the first whiffs of old age in the breeze around me. I feel it in my bones and I think about it. The imagination takes over, and I thought it would be very telling and meaningful to write about an old guy."

Parker said he patterned Hess on his own father, Robert Parker, 67, who lives in Redwood Valley, Calif. Like Hess, his father has undergone various therapies for lung cancer and has a strong work ethic.

"To me, [the novel] was a look at a workaholic, if you will," he said. "Hess wants to stay busy. Like a lot of old guys who retire, he doesn't have anything else to do. The best line in the book is in the first chapter when Hess looks at his old boss, Brighton, and thinks, 'We are old men. The years have become hours and this [tracking down monsters] is what we do with our lives.' "

As for having Hess battling cancer, Parker said, "I thought it would be important to the story to have him with this death sentence over his head. To me, the death sentence that Hess lives under is the same one that you and I live under every day; it's just sped up."

Although "The Blue Hour" is his first thriller to feature a female protagonist, Parker acknowledged that all seven of his novels have featured "a fairly upfront love story."

Falling in love, he said, "is one of the biggest things in our lives, so it seems like good [fictional] territory. And it's a nice counterpoint in a way. One of the things I like about this book is it's a love story set against an investigation of two mysterious killings. I like that day-and-night, light-and-dark, love-and-hate dynamic."

Parker no longer writes at his Laguna Beach home, a three-bedroom house on stilts high above Laguna Canyon Road that he shares with Rita, his wife of two years; his 7-year-old stepson, Tyler; and his 9-month-old son, Tommy. As Rita, a former paralegal for a medical group, jokes: "We ran him right out of the house."

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