Two mismatched college roommates from the late '60s reunite under very different circumstances in the days following 9/11, when dark forces threaten each of them and the 16-year-old son of one of the men.
Owen's ninth novel flashes back to the height of the Vietnam War years at a second-tier liberal-arts college in North Carolina. George James, straight-laced heir of a Richmond, Va., ham company, and Freeman Hawk, a brilliant and enigmatic campus activist from a poor Carolina family, strike up a friendship that gradually pulls George into the antiwar movement. When he draws a low number in the draft lottery, he heads to Canada, only to let his connected father reel him back home from the border, safely deposit him in a Virginia National Guard unit and program him into the corporate life. When Hawk reappears in George's life years later, under an assumed name, he is returning from Canada, where he fled after an Arab friend who stayed with him is tagged as a terrorist. Hawk also is being pursued by drug dealers for making off with their money. Meanwhile, George's son Jake, who attends a private school for troubled teens, is poorly coping with his mother's cancer-related death, his father's spiraling alcoholism, bullying students and strangers who appear to be following him. His coming of age is at the heart of the book, which does well as a domestic novel with its father-son dynamics, period detail and measured tone, but is neither convincing nor all that coherent as a mystery. The bad guys speak and act like characters in a B movie, the climactic action scene is muddled and readers may feel cheated by the virtual disappearance from the book of Jake's unstable but strong-willed and animated girlfriend Andrea.
A compelling tale of different eras and generations undercut by its undercooked mystery component.