In his first official assignment as a detective, a small-town lawman is jolted way out of his comfort zone with a complex case that stretches halfway across the world.
Judd Wheeler, the police chief of sleepy little Prosperity, North Carolina, answers a call about a juvenile troublemaker named Spud Corliss and finds himself flat on his back, victim of the young offender's marksmanship. Fast-forward two months, and Judd, who narrates in an amiable first person, returns to the job a little shakily. Childhood friend Kent Kramer, now the mayor, again suggests Judd take on a detective role as well, sweetening the offer with the title Chief Detective. The timing is ideal, and Kent’s an earnest charmer; Judd accepts. His first case is a disappearance at a property handled, as it happens, by Kent. Roger Guthrie and his wife, Natalie, have been married for three years. Previously a widower, he works for a nearby bank and she's from Russia, both bits of information Judd finds worthy of further investigation. Roger's boss, Albert York, reports recent erratic behavior, and neighbors heard loud arguments between the couple. When Judd requests info on Natalie from Immigration, he gets a visit from slick Homeland Security Agent Jack Cantrell, a clear signal that sets Judd on the trail of an international criminal. Judd's full plate becomes overstuffed with the surprise reappearance of an old nemesis named Sean “Shug” Burch.
Helms' third Judd Wheeler procedural (Thunder Moon, 2011, etc.) has an appealing transparency and an easy rhythm, turning the reader into a sidekick in Judd's methodical probe.