In this mystery, a private investigator searches for clues surrounding a nuclear physicist, part of the Manhattan Project and missing for more than half a century.
It’s 2002 when Leland Wilson hires Denver private eye Jacob Martin to look into a missing-persons case, more than 50 years since his scientist father, Hollis, vanished. Jacob had already taken a stab at the case back in 1986 for Leland and his sister, Miriam, but ultimately turned up nothing significant. There may be a break this time, however, with Hollis’ packed suitcase unearthed a mere 80 miles from his Albuquerque, New Mexico, home. His children acknowledge that, even if Hollis wasn’t a murder victim, the man, a prospective 84 in ’02, may have died naturally. But they want his name cleared. Days before Hollis’ disappearance, British intelligence arrested Klaus Fuchs on suspicion of spying for the Soviets. Since Fuchs was Hollis’ superior at a Los Alamos lab working alongside J. Robert Oppenheimer, the FBI surmised an equally guilty Hollis fled his inevitable capture. Jacob scours New Mexico questioning the physicist’s colleagues and surprisingly finds evidence of other spies. He’s clearly making someone nervous—someone who tosses his hotel room and later shadows him. But when cops link the culprit to a recent murder, Jacob could very well be next on a killer’s list. Despite the espionage that Jacob is bound to uncover, this tale is primarily a detective story. The pace is unhurried, with Robinson (The Last Cold Warrior, 2007) establishing details first, complete with a flashback to the 1986 investigation before the 2002 one begins. But the narrative’s devotion to the case is impressive, most of the book consisting of Jacob’s interrogations as he slowly pieces together what he’s learning. Engrossing relationships, meanwhile, stem from the investigation— women he meets along the way, including Hollis’ assistant Kathleen Cooper and Detective Jessie Begay. There’s potential for romance, but Robinson smartly leaves moments like Jessie inviting Jacob to the police station (“Want to come?”) ambiguous. The plot only intensifies as the private eye amasses information and weeds out red herrings, while the credible story opts not to provide easy answers or a bad guy with a smoking gun.
A gumshoe whose scrupulous efforts are increasingly captivating and worthwhile.