Robbie Brownlaw’s life is a happy one. He is a police officer for the San Diego Police Department and lives with the love of his life, his wife, Gina. But everything changes when he sees an apartment building on fire and rushes to assist those inside. In one of the upper level apartments, he finds a man hopped up on drugs who tosses him out of the window. He survives the fall by hitting an awning but comes out of the experience with synesthesia, a condition that leaves him able to see people’s emotions as shapes coming out of their mouths when they talk. He is also promoted to a detective and touted as a hero by the police department.
When Garrett Asplundh, a former SDPD detective-turned-ethics investigator, is found dead in his SUV, Robbie is assigned the case. When he starts investigating, he finds evidence of a man who has fallen apart. Garrett’s two-year-old daughter died in a drowning accident not long ago, not only ruining Garrett’s life but also his marriage to the beautiful Stella. Although he initially suspects suicide, Robbie soon finds out that Garrett was on the way to reconcile with his beloved wife that night and never would have taken his life. A motive for murder materializes when Robbie and his partner find tapes of high-ranking San Diego officials with well-known prostitutes. As Robbie begins further investigation, his wife walks out on him, turning his life upside down.
Despite Robbie’s personal turmoil, he must find Garrett’s killer and find a way to expose the secrets he’s uncovered without ruining the infrastructure of the city he loves.
The Fallen by T. Jefferson Parker is a meditation on loss and recovery and fighting for what you believe is right. Robbie is a strong character with whom the reader immediately identifies, and the supporting cast is well-drawn - but for the exception of Robbie’s wife, Gina. This is probably the biggest flaw of the book because Robbie, whom we like and respect, is so head over heels in love with this woman, and we never see why. She comes across as a shallow, self-centered little girl, and watching Robbie agonize over her makes you lose just a little respect for him.
Besides the problem with Gina, The Fallen is a strongly-plotted, well-written thriller with much more going on under the surface than the mystery of Garrett’s death. Robbie’s transformation throughout the book is just as fascinating as his quest to uncover the details of Garrett’s death. Although you’ll be guessing until the end about who the killer is, you’ll also be guessing about how Robbie will come out of the whole experience—and it is a toss-up between which answer is the one you’re most looking forward to.
T. Jefferson Parker has a history of writing books with recurring characters, and there is certainly plenty of room to do so with Robbie Brownlaw. After reading about his struggles and triumphs in The Fallen, readers will certainly hope that Parker does continue with Robbie’s story in future novels.