A reporter, in covering a story on soldiers who’ve died in Iraq, may have encountered someone seeking bloody retribution against supposed warmongers in this thriller.
News & Observer editor Karl Claxton is so affected by the death of his friends’ son that he assigns TV anchor–turned-reporter Rudy Ryan a series on late soldiers’ families. Rudy interviews subjects around North Carolina and, like the grieving loved ones, ultimately condemns the government for starting wars and sending troops to die. Some of the deaths, too, seemed preventable, especially ones happening at Army bases—faulty wiring, for example, results in a number of electrocutions. Rudy gets help from seasoned journalist Richard Landis and Richard’s daughter, April, who doubles as Rudy’s new romantic interest. At the same time, a string of mutilations ravages the country: someone shoots a Florida minister in the groin and mercilessly beats two men with a golf club. The attacks have links to soldiers, such as the golfing victims, who had taunted attendees of a funeral for homosexual Army sergeants. Rudy and April surmise that the assailant is one of Rudy’s interviewees, a person whose odd and aggressive behavior left the reporter “a little freaked.” And they anticipate the worst when their suspect shows up at a memorial event, The Cook Out, where the former vice president will be speaking. Riley (Executive Deception, 2011) injects mystery and suspense into his novel, including an initially hidden identity for the assailant, who certainly has the potential to become a killer. Rudy’s parallel story is decidedly lighter fare than the meticulously planned, violent attacks. Puerile humor is sometimes grating, like laughter or a quip accompanying nearly every mention of the groin injury. Rudy, too, can be flippant, jokingly claiming he wants to enlist when seeing women in “those tight camouflage tee shirts” not long after learning about the rape of female soldiers. The author only barely ties the reporter to the main plot, which might have ended the same way even without Rudy’s inclusion. The final few Rudy-less chapters, however, are the strongest, leading to an ambiguous but delectably ominous conclusion.
Touches of lowbrow comedy distract from an otherwise riveting, vengeance-fueled tale.