Sturdy, predictable thriller about a traumatized Secret Service agent who retires to his cozy midwestern hometown—only to find it honeycombed with the violence he thought he’d left behind in this.
Long after the confrontation with a demented terrorist who killed his partner and nearly killed him, Billy Tree still wakens with night sweats. And no wonder, since the conspirator who ended his career has nothing on the threats to the Nebraska peace. A bunch of nasty bikers are clearly peddling drugs, and a pair of trash-talking gangbangers seems to have every intention of getting in on their action. Closer to home, there’s Duane Blanchard, the mean, skilled battler who’s never let go of Joan, the school nurse who divorced him, and Curtis Metzger, his big, ferocious pal—not to mention Curtis’s Nazi-loving son Sandy, who becomes Sheriff Pat Kunkel’s chief suspect the minute the smoke clears from the killing of school principal Thom Cohan (already taunted by the Metzgers for his allegedly Jewish name before he was shot along with an inoffensive teacher during a pre–school-year meeting). Kunkel, insisting that Billy’s Secret Service background gives him an expertise the sheriff sorely needs, inveigles Billy into tagging along on the investigation. But Billy, who’s never quite stopped carrying a torch for Joan Blanchard, can feel himself slipping into another, even less comfortable role as her latest lover—and the next target of her ex’s murderous rage. If none of this sounds very original, Wiltse pumps it up efficiently, revealing some dastardly new secret every 40 pages or so, and tying the formula intrigue conscientiously into domestic small-town travails.
The stage brogue Billy keeps slipping into at every sign of trouble (“She calls me an eedjit, and still I love the woman”), however, shows how much Wiltse’s taken off the intensity of his ultra-tough thrillers about the FBI’s John Becker (Blown Away, 1996, etc.)