The murder of a local forest ranger sends a small-town Indiana lawman through a labyrinth of contradictory clues and dangerous situations in this thriller.
The irascible, slightly over-the-hill Sheriff Earl “Tip” Tungate returns in this latest novel by Johnson (Vengeance, 2016, etc.). Beset by bureaucracies, petty politics, and jealousy on all sides, Tungate follows the clues where they lead in a well-paced, action-packed mystery. During his investigation of a ranger’s death, two nonagenarians (who both happen to be former guards of Nazi POWs) also turn up dead, and a major gun battle takes place between Luke Phillips, a peculiar and secretive resident of Sedalia, and people who may or may not be federal agents. The plot further thickens when Tungate finds Phillips’ house to be as fortified as Fort Knox, complete with an escape tunnel. Later, it turns out that there are mysterious boats unloading equally mysterious trucks downriver, and that Rudolpho Sanchez, the lead FBI investigator into the ranger’s death and an all-around pain in Tungate’s side, may not be whom he seems. Johnson’s prose is perfect for this complex tale, with realistic dialogue, vivid scene-setting, and just the right touch of noir style. He knows how to lock on to small, precise details for maximum impact, as in a gruesome description of a murder victim: “Her wallet lump still showed on one upturned hip.” Tungate is shown to be a man with a laser focus on protecting the people of Howarth County. Despite being warned off by everyone from the district attorney to the FBI, he methodically cracks one mystery after another: who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? Is there a serial killer at large, or a drug cartel, or international terrorists? The action-packed plot moves along with more twists than a gnarled Indiana oak. Just when readers think it’s over, the thrills start up again at a higher pitch. It’s a perfect fit for fans of police procedurals.
An intelligent mystery with quirky characters, ironic humor, and brisk action.