When a professor of folklore and his student are murdered, a Philadelphia detective is on the case.
Detective John McDonough plays a cat-and-mouse game to find who killed Professor Richard Dunglison and his student Ted Hallman. At the crime scene, the word “Hamlet” is written in blood, and Hallman mumbles “Poor Yorick,” to Dunglison’s severed head just before dying. Prior to Hallman’s death, he was working feverishly on a paper that would reveal the whereabouts of an ancient lost text. McDonough realizes that Hallman’s knowledge is what got him killed and his teacher dismembered. The detective finds Hallman’s notes inside a copy of Hamlet at Hallman’s apartment. In the course of 24 hours—a highly unfeasible time frame for all that ensues—McDonough is immersed in the world of academe: cryptic clues that involve church history, witchcraft, a kidnapping and the missing ancient book that purportedly imparts secret powers. His investigation uncovers that a crooked cop is divulging information to those willing to kill for the book, and although the dirty one stands out among the suspects, Ohl does throw in a few surprising twists. The detective doesn’t know whom to trust as he deciphers the mystery surrounding a sect that broke from the church centuries ago and will stop at nothing to retrieve the lost tome. Amid the intricately plotted, Da Vinci Code-style story, a flirtatious dance develops between the detective and Amy Ritter, Dunglison’s student on whom McDonough relies for historical knowledge surrounding the mysterious Brethren of Roxborough, a local religious group that may hold the answer to the murders. A dizzying assemblage of clues, including a centuries-old letter, a lieutenant’s death and the appearance of an enigmatic woman named Sophia Mezzalura, pervade the first third of the story and lead McDonough and Ritter to an exhumation, where the pace finally accommodates the unraveling of the puzzle. Although some questions remain, such as what power the book purportedly bestows, Ohl delivers on many accounts, including a well-crafted cast, short, snappy chapters that move the action along and a touch of mystery at the end, which lends itself to a sequel. Ohl’s ambitious attempt at this debut novel bodes well for the next installment.
A formidable contender in the religious-thriller genre.