A Justice Department investigator’s latest case is the killing of a Civil War re-enactor, his body cropping up on Maryland’s Antietam Battlefield in this debut thriller.
A body on Park Service property makes it federal jurisdiction, or “close enough” for Felix Allaben to take the murder case. Allaben knows the victim, Curtis Gwynn, dead from a gunshot wound and dressed in a Union uniform. Gwynn was a whistleblower against dirty cops back when he and Allaben were at the Baltimore Police Department. And a week before his death, he called Allaben, convinced that a Toyota had tried to run him over. Allaben’s certainly not in want of suspects, and not just irate police officers. Gwynn had an affair with a married woman and, on the night of his murder, had argued with various people at a local tavern. When the park ranger who found Gwynn’s body turns up dead, also on the battlefield, authorities surmise it’s a mere accident––a fall from the observation tower. But there may be something else going on, as evidenced by the baseball bat–wielding men who warn Allaben to stop his meddling. Allaben’s probe leads him to a potentially dangerous militia group and a rather dubious politician. Then the investigator nearly dies in a fire, which could mean that the thugs are making good on their threat. While the protagonist remains delightfully complex and sympathetic, he is definitely flawed. He recently lost his wife, Rebecca, at the hands of a mugger who shot them both. Rebecca was psychologically unwell, and Allaben hadn’t exactly been faithful to her. Notwithstanding, as an investigator, he more than excels. Allaben, for example, often asks questions when he knows the answers, like the meaning behind a snake tattoo, an emblem for the militia group. Lee and Fleury pile on probable killers and clues, but Allaben himself sporadically acknowledges the “vague” evidence and the fact that, still late in the story, he’s “getting nowhere.” The final act, however, kicks red herrings to the wayside and zeroes in on a gratifying reveal––with an extra twist at the very end.
A slow-building murder tale, but the complicated hero and serpentine wrap-up make it a worthy mystery.