Since he abandoned journalism in 1985 to make up his own world of Southern California cops and robbers, T. Jefferson Parker has socked away three Edgar Awards and watched his novels climb the bestseller lists. From his first, Laguna Heat, to his more recent series featuring Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Charlie Hood (The Jaguar, The Famous and the Dead), Parker has consistently focused on crime--its commission and its resolution. Full Measure, however, is not a crime novel (although it contains plenty of crimes: arson, vehicular homicide, prostitution, robbery, assault). Rather, it is the story of an avocado-farming family in the small San Diego County town of Fallbrook, just up the highway from the Camp Pendleton Marine base.
Over many years, the resolute Archie Norris and his wife, Caroline, built one of the finest farms in this "Avocado Capital of the World," but recent droughts and a devastating wildfire put them on the edge of bankruptcy. Their oldest son, Ted, suffered obscure medical trouble in childhood that left him partially lame and mentally unstable; in his 30s, he drives a cab and still lives in the farm's bunkhouse. When their youngest son, Patrick, returns home a local hero after his deployment in Afghanistan with the acclaimed Marine battalion the Three/Five ("Get Some!"), Archie hopes the can-do Pat will help salvage the trees and take over the farm. Unfortunately, Pat's tour in the Sangin District dodging snipers and IEDs has broken his optimism and hardened him against the naïve thank-yous that come from a United States filled with "children and grown-up children." As one Marine buddy says, "America doesn't go to war. America goes to the mall."
Full Measure is a hard look at the effects of war, the bonds of both brothers and brothers-in-arms, the fat of the family farm in modern society, and the economic stress on small American towns after 9/11 and the Great Recession. If that sounds like a lot of weight for one novel to carry, Parker's 30 years of crime writing equip him to pack the load. When it turns out that the wildfire is the result of arson, Full Measure picks up the pace as Homeland Security agents come to Fallbrook to investigate a local white-supremacy gang, as well as Muslim and Mexican immigrants. Ted begins to crumble and buys a gun, Archie and Caroline sell their last retirement funds to save the farm, and Pat must put aside his dream of guiding fishermen in San Diego Bay to try to save his family. A reluctant hero, uncertain what to do, he can only instinctively follow his Marine training "to just put one foot in front of the other and get the mission done." Full Measure may not sound like the T. Jefferson Parker we are used to, but it's still a damn fine novel.
Bruce Jacobs' review first appeared in Shelf Awareness on Sept. 25, 2014.