An Army mortician teams up, sort of, with a military artist who just won’t die to thwart an obscenely shape-shifting conspiracy.
Everybody has some God-given talent. Jim Zigarowski’s is to make the dead look presentable for the families who come to view their remains at the Dover Air Force Base. When the bombing of a military plane from Alaska kills all seven aboard, Zig’s attention is drawn not to the headline victim—Librarian of Congress Nelson Rookstool, an old friend of President Orson Wallace—but to Sgt. Nola Brown, an Army artist-in-residence who years ago saved the life of 12-year-old Maggie Zigarowski, though she couldn’t prevent Zig’s daughter from dying scarcely a year later. Illegally grabbing the job of preparing Nola’s remains from the mortician assigned to the case, Zig quickly discovers that the remains aren’t Nola’s after all. His joy that Nola is still alive is tempered by the sobering realization that an awful lot of people have conspired to cover up this happy news by signing off on her death. Inevitably, the living Nola returns, determined to get to the bottom of the bombing. By that time, veteran suspenser Meltzer (co-author: The House of Secrets, 2016, etc.) has begun a series of harrowing flashbacks to Nola’s childhood and adolescence that firmly establish her as the most damaged heroine in the genre since Lisbeth Salander. Uncovering traces of a sinister scheme called Operation Bluebook, Zig and Nola work—often at cross-purposes, though not when they need to save each other’s lives—through a web of corrupt procurers, creatively armed killers, and board-certified magicians to trace and neutralize Bluebook before its resourceful conspirators can kill Zig and finish the job they bungled on Nola.
The same mixture as before: a sweeping, overplotted, overscaled account of high crimes, misdemeanors, and violent coverups and reprisals. But those flashbacks into the heroine’s traumatic early years, although they seriously disrupt the momentum of the blood-and-thunder present-day plot, sting long after the details of that plot have faded.