This sequel to Sam McCain’s eighth case, Ticket to Ride (2010), originally announced as his last, has got to be great news for fans of the sharpest investigator in yesteryear Iowa.
An accident’s sent Sam back home from Fort Hood and boot camp. Though he’s spent months recovering in a hospital, he’s one of the luckiest young men of 1971. He didn’t make it to Vietnam; he didn’t come home in a body bag or minus his legs, like Greg Egan, or minus an arm, like Ted Franks. And he didn’t accidentally kill a Vietnamese girl like Will Cullen, who’s retreated into a trauma zone all his own. When Will joins John Kerry in opposing the war, his position puts him squarely in the path of Steve Donovan’s fists on the night Donovan’s patron, hawkish Sen. Patrick O’Shay, presents him as a promising Congressional candidate. The next morning, Donovan is found beaten to death, and in the blink of an eye, deceptively friendly Police Chief Foster (“call me Paul”) arrests Will for murder. Sam, who’s as certain as Will’s wife, Karen, that Foster’s holding the wrong man, turns over other rocks in Black River Falls to see what’s hiding under them. His suspicions fall on Lon Anders, Donovan’s rapacious new business partner, and on Valerie Donovan, a widow who’s one piece of work. As usual, there are plenty of other guilty secrets to discover. The final revelation, however, will take most readers by surprise, even if some of them are still scratching their heads after the curtain comes down.
The Vietnam War era puts the damper on Gorman’s usual generosity in strewing period detail but engages a deeper passion: “The war was not only destroying people overseas, it was destroying them back in my hometown.”