Drawing on the 1918 murder of Dr. William Dean of East Jaffrey, New Hampshire, Coey fictionalizes events and proposes a solution to the crime, which has remained unsolved. Coey’s tale revolves around the attempts of two agents working for the Department of Justice to determine whether reports of mysterious lights coming from Mount Monadnock are the work of German agents signaling German submarines off Boston Harbor. Suspicion points to Lawrence Colfelt, a tenant on Dean’s farm who is believed by the locals to be a German sympathizer. After an altercation with Colfelt, Dean indicates to authorities that he has information regarding the investigation into the mysterious signals. Before authorities can speak to him, however, Dean is found murdered in the cistern on his farm. Justice Department agents Brendan Shaughnessey, a working class Bostonian with a drinking problem, and Nathaniel Nash, an academic attorney and family man, find themselves in a morass of ineptitude and conspiracy when it emerges that Colfelt has an alibi and a prominent local Freemason begins to look like the most likely culprit. With some eagerly pointing the finger at Dean’s frail, senile wife, tensions flare between Protestants and Catholics as a Masonic coverup is suspected. Highlights include the flamboyant Dr. DeKerlor, a European experimental psychologist and psychic who relishes the spotlight. Also compelling is the relationship that flourishes between Shaughnessey and a local widow. While the case is intriguing, Coey relies too heavily on official documents and newspaper articles. Wholesale adherence to historical material stifles the story; only toward the end of the novel, once Coey undertakes his hypothetical solution, do his characters begin to breathe.
An interesting case that’s too thinly fictionalized.