An agent in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, searching for missing parolees, fears that the Aryan Brotherhood may be responsible for their disappearances in Shaw’s straightforward debut thriller.
When Sam Wellington’s injury in Afghanistan renders him ineligible for re-enlistment in the Army, he gets a job as a correctional officer at San Quentin State Prison in California. It’s a tough gig, and he gladly opts for a parole agent position in nearby Calaveras and Amador counties, even if his predecessor, Lucas Kane, inexplicably disappeared. Sam’s duties seem fairly routine until he promises Jesse Ramirez’s family that he’ll look for the recently missing parolee. Other parolees disappear as well, but it’s the discovery of Kane’s badge that leads Sam to wealthy Felix Tully, who has ties to the Aryan Brotherhood. Sam, after a few run-ins with the Aryan group, whose members include Tully’s brother Hitler, believes he may find answers at Tully’s mansion in the mountains. The author aptly develops his protagonist well before the Calaveras investigation starts. Sam, for example, is an exceptional Army Ranger, but seeing him out of his element at the grueling San Quentin prison establishes him as both tolerant and pragmatic. His down-to-earth status makes the missing persons case even more intimidating and also sets the stage for his inevitable romance with the abrasive Pam Maxant. The no-nonsense Pam, whose cabin Sam rents, works her way into Sam’s investigation, including tagging along to a crime scene because she knows a more efficient route. The tale involves little mystery: Sam doesn’t gather clues or scrutinize evidence, and he has no genuine suspects beyond Tully and his Aryan entourage. But the villains are unquestionably menacing, particularly Hitler and his cohorts, sparking conflict with Sam after one merely brushes up against Sam’s shoulder in passing. The protagonist, meanwhile, makes progress with both the missing parolees and in his relationship with Pam. Lengthy scenes with Sam at a Veterans Affairs Hospital and San Quentin initially seem irrelevant but pay off in the blistering final sequence that allows Sam to use skills he’s picked up along the way. Mystery fans may see the lack of genre elements as a shortcoming, but Shaw keeps the story moving and retains interest with engaging characters.
A simple tale with a hero who’s just a regular guy, which makes him all the more likable and exemplary.