A debut crime novel brings together a severely conflicted newspaper editor, vigilantes and other bad guys, and the power brokers of the midsized city of Newcastle, Massachusetts.
Journalist Tucker Wattson is suffering for a number of reasons. Once a popular columnist for the Newcastle Chronicle, he eventually accepted a promotion to editor, and that job—chairing boring meetings, settling petty squabbles, jousting with the publisher—consumes him. Or maybe a large part of the problem lies in the midlife crisis he’s facing (he’s 44). At any rate, the married editor strays, meeting and falling half in love with the beautiful Lizbeth Saagen. Only later does he realize that she happens to be the current girlfriend of local bad boy Carl McSorley. Meanwhile, trouble is brewing in town. Ronald Jefferson was acquitted of rape, but vigilantes have now killed the young black college student and firebombed his defense attorney’s house. Rumors soon implicate certain members of the elite Blackthorn Club, the gathering place of Newcastle’s movers and shakers. Odermatt’s shrewd plot puts Tucker right in the middle of this mess. As the facts of the vigilantes’ actions begin to leak, will Tucker do the right thing and go to the police, or will he desperately try to save his reputation (and his marriage)? Odermatt performs a masterly job of detailing this man’s moral struggle. Another coup is to set so much of the action in the newsroom of the Chronicle. Other crime writers have used dogged newspaper reporters as protagonists, but Odermatt—who spent his career as a journalist—goes a step further, showing readers the gritty job of getting out a metropolitan daily (“There was something about the urgency and organized chaos of the newsroom in the last hours before deadline that made reporters and copy editors think that getting out the paper was the most exciting thing, perhaps the most important thing, that happened in the city each day”). It’s a nice touch and a device that he may want to use in future novels. The writing is, as one might expect, more than competent, and the characters remain well drawn for the most part.
While the author does not yet have the chops of a Michael Connelly or James Lee Burke, this tale nevertheless delivers a clever plot centered on a besieged journalist facing ominous forces.