A young man seeks membership in a charitable but private organization that perhaps harbors a few too many secrets in this debut novel.
Ben Gilsum is a 23-year-old introvert living alone in Virginia. He’s employed as an intelligence analyst at a company that does contract work for the Department of Defense and the FBI. Though dining at the Columbia Firehouse, a local restaurant, is a Thursday night ritual, Ben keeps to himself and avoids conversations with others. But he enjoys doing volunteer work, which piques his interest in organizations, such as the Freemasons, that benefit the community. Ben focuses on one group in particular, the Brothers of Herrad. But information on the Brothers is sparse, and the analyst needs the full extent of his skills to track down anything useful. Luckily, he manages to make contact with the outfit, and the enigmatic Mr. James eventually becomes Ben’s mentor in training him for potential membership. It’s a confidence boost for Ben, who starts dating Angelina Rindge, a personal assistant to a Massachusetts junior senator. But he’s still learning about the Brothers, and soon Ben suspects illicit activities by a certain member or two as well as someone’s attempt, for whatever reason, to manipulate him. Despite a couple of plot twists, the thriller aspects of Campbell’s series opener are relatively muted. For example, one individual’s implicit threat doesn’t make it clear what’s at risk: Ben’s job, his life, or something else. Nevertheless, Ben is an appealing protagonist that the narrative rigorously develops. He’s socially awkward and generally trusting, but, as the quiet story progresses, Ben gradually begins doubting many of the people affiliated with the Brothers. Some of the abundant dialogue is hard to follow, as lengthy exchanges often unfold within single paragraphs. At the same time, the dialogue is lucid and believable. Angelina’s father playfully suggests making her new boyfriend “disappear discreetly if he’s not who he says he is.”
A restrained but engrossing thriller, the start of a series featuring the simpatico hero.