A down-home murder mystery in a small Midwestern town leads a lawman to big-city criminals and a PTSD nightmare come to life.
Johnson first introduced readers to the sleepy town of Sedalia in a previous book, Sedalia, Indiana (2016). In a place where the only thing thicker than gossip is Machiavellian political intrigue, Sheriff Earl “Tip” Tungate must divide his time between fighting crime and navigating a bureaucracy that conspires against him. The tale weaves its way from the unexplainable sniper murders of an old farmer and a young girl through a labyrinth of clues, dead ends, and plot twists as Tungate’s methodical investigation unearths a sinister design in which he finds himself the centerpiece. He sifts through myriad theories: drive-by, revenge, inheritance, mercy killing, the Russian mob. Eventually, his estranged daughter, a New York City newscaster, is threatened, apparently by the same killer. All the while, he must contend with a chief deputy after his job, a female trooper who thinks he’s a chauvinist, and a district attorney and governor who want to sink him and take credit for solving the case. Tungate is a brilliantly constructed character. Neither valiant paragon of virtue nor deeply flawed antihero, he is rather a somewhat out-of-shape Everyman, who, like some Midwestern Columbo, craftily allows people to underestimate him. Johnson manages to powerfully combine the best elements of popular and literary fiction. The plot is tight, the action plentiful, and mysteries abound. At the same time, the characters are meticulously constructed and cliché-free, while the writing is crisp, concise, and filled with strikingly poignant imagery: “His right hand still clutched his electric bill and his Farm Journal. It looked as though he might get up from his open-eyed nap and go into the house about his old-man business, reading his periodical and pretending he still had farm business to attend to. He probably looked forward to that magazine all month.”
Filled with dark, sardonic humor and absurd, exhilarating situations, this book delivers an intelligently written police drama with a shrewd protagonist.