PI Frank Johnson is awakened by a missile detonating over his house and sets out to investigate with the help of his neighbor, Old Man, a retired CIA agent. They try to elicit the help of the local small town sheriff, who is running for re-election, but once their investigation becomes better known it brings them in contact with a mysterious group called The Blue Cheer. Frank calls in some friends to help and as the causalities mount and the investigation intersects more and more with the group the two are set on a collision course that will result is a bloody showdown.
Lynskey crisply moves the plot forward never staying in one scene for longer then necessary. The central question of ‘Who is the Blue Cheer?’ continues to build until the inevitable confrontation. Some of those clues are found in the text laid out for us to pick up. Some are hunches about obviously portrayed characters, while other characters that we had suspected of involvement wind up being guilty of only incompetence. It’s important to note that the plot for the most part unfolds naturally and the “hunch” card isn’t over played.
The action sequences and some of the dialogue are punctuated with a certain level of technical and or military jargon. Given the military background of the characters in the story it feels authentic instead of affected, but it never becomes out of hand and overwhelming to those of us who haven’t served.
The character of Old Man, who is black, is married to a younger woman, who is white. This in and of itself isn’t a big deal. But it lays the groundwork for one of the most interesting and complex characters in the book, Old Man’s sister. His sister is opposed to the marriage solely because of the racial issue and isn’t afraid to voice her opinion. She engages in vigorous debate throughout the book against inter-racial marriage. This humanizes her and makes her a real and vibrant character that jumps off of the page. We all know people who have opinions that are different then the norm; they possess other characteristics though that round them out and make us like them in spite of perceived short comings. She is no different, even though we don’t agree with her opinion, we like her. A great character and a true highlight of the book.
As far as the Blue Cheer is concerned they are adequate at best. They certainly are capable of heinous acts to that there is no doubt. But the actual group of men, once revealed, never strikes fear into the reader’s heart. There seem to be hints that the group is a part of a larger network, that is left largely unexplored but this wing of the group are just back woods killers filled with a mis-placed righteous anger towards other races. The groups’ purpose is ultimately to be the nemesis for Frank and his compadres in this story and the ramifications of their actions in relation to the central group of characters can never be understated. Those actions are felt by all, the reader included. My other complaint about the group is that their introduction into the plot was a little awkward.
Another flaw of the book is certainly not a fatal one but its worth mentioning. The Blue Cheer starts out with a bang, literally. A Stinger missile explodes near Frank’s house prompting him to go investigate. Most, if not all, of the Stinger missile sub-plot feels a little tacked on. An added afterthought to display Lynskey’s total knowledge of the subject. He spent 18 years working for the defense department on the development and production of them. All of the information on them is technically sound of that I have no doubt, but it does little to serve the plot. Whenever information about the missiles is presented to us it almost feels like whichever character is speaking steps out of character to provide us with a lesson in just how deadly the weapon is in a post 9/11 world. Personally I learned A LOT about The Stinger, but it wasn’t integral to the plot. In this story’s remote, mountain town setting the greater fear comes not from knowing that The Blue Cheer can arbitrarily blow up any airplane anywhere (especially considering that none of the characters fly) but from the knowledge that the group can savagely kill whomever they want (which they will) and that no one (as far as the scope of the story is concerned) is safe.
Despite my minor gripes, and they were minor, I really did like this book and will gladly seek out other books by Lynskey and that feature Frank Johnson. It becomes quickly apparent that Frank is a character with a deeper history then is portrayed here in this novel. He walks off of the page as a real and fleshed out character. After reading the book I did a quick search online and found that the character has been written about in 40+ short stories, 1 previous novel and 2 more to be published soon, all of this is evident in how the character is presented.