Former mercenary Adelbert Johnson, still living in retirement at an Oregon village with his wife, Dolly, finds that the world just won’t leave a man alone to ruminate in peace.
Not that Dell’s ruminations are peaceful. The opening pages of his third adventure recall the death of his fellow légionnaire Olaf, who’s probably more thunderous, and certainly more long-winded, about the rules of engagement for his trade as he lies dying than he ever was when he was actually in the mix. But Dell calms down enough to be truly outraged at the thinly veiled threat Dolly receives after she drops a tip to the blog Undercurrents about the stealthy doings of moneyed gay businessman George Byron Benton, who’s been quietly buying up adjoining parcels of land for some dark purpose. Tapping the expertise of his usual co-conspirators—Dolly’s friend Mack, softhearted giant Franklin, nursery owners Johnny and Martin, the mysterious online correspondent he call the ghost—Dell soon confirms that Benton is up to no good. For one thing, he’s not really gay; his partner, Roger Mason, isn’t his partner at all. For another, he’s somehow involved with Undercurrents staffer Rhonda Jayne Johnson. And as if that weren’t enough, his deep-laid plans involve a pricey arts center, financed entirely by himself, that will bring jobs and tourists to the area. Fans of the series (Aftershock, 2013, etc.) will lose sleep waiting to find out whether the mystery will be further elucidated (spoiler alert: don’t hold your breath) and whether Dell will engage the enemy directly (altogether more likely).
As so often in Vachss, the story is less notable as a story, or an exploration of characters in conflict, than as an extended meditation on what Dell aptly calls “the zen of violence.”