The year is 1967, and the world teeters on the brink of nuclear holocaust as the Cold War goes relentlessly on. On a beautiful spring day in the little city of Holloman, Connecticut, home to prestigious Chubb University and armaments giant Cornucopia, chief of detectives Captain Carmine Delmonico has more pressing concerns than finding a name for his infant son: twelve murders have taken place in one day, and Delmonico is drawn into a gruesome web of secrets and lies.
Supported by his detective sergeants Abe Goldberg and Corey Marshall and new team member the meticulous Delia Carstairs, Delmonico embarks on what looks like an unsolvable mystery. All the murders are different and they all seem unconnected. Are they dealing with one killer, or many? How is the murder of Dee-Dee Hall, a local prostitute, related to the deaths of a mother and her disabled child? How is Chubb student Evan Pugh connected to Desmond Skeps, head of Cornucopia? And as if twelve murders were not enough, Carmine soon finds himself pitted against the mysterious Ulysses, a spy giving Cornucopia's armaments secrets to the Russians. Are the murders and espionage different cases, or are they somehow linked?
When FBI special agent Ted Kelly makes himself part of the investigation, it appears the stakes are far higher than anyone had imagined, and murder is only one part of the puzzle in the set of crimes that has sent Holloman into a panic. As the overtaxed police force contends with small town politics, academic rivalry and corporate greed, the death toll mounts, and Carmine and his team discover that the answers are not what they seem -- but then, are they ever?
To say the book’s plot is complicated is something of an understatement. Between the alarming body count (it keeps growing after that first day) and the seemingly endless twists and turns you do feel the need to have a notebook by your side, especially in the first third of the book. Complicated is what McCullough does well though and it all does resolve itself in a satisfying way. However I’d have to admit that by incorporating so many murders and associated investigations the book has skimped a little on its tackling of the big-picture social and political issues which are intertwined with the story. Things like the women’s liberation movement and the cold war between the US and Russia are present more superficially than I’d expect from McCullough and there are tangential threads that could easily have been omitted in order to address such issues more deeply.
There are some fabulous characters though. Again, perhaps a few less would have enabled us to get to know some of them more deeply, but Carmine Delmonico and his wife, Desdemona, are thoroughly engaging, As the book opens they have yet to agree on a name for their 5 month old baby boy but their gentle arguing about the issue shows they have a quite lovely relationship which is an equal partnership possibly a little ahead of its time. Delmonico is a dedicated cop and caring about his subordinates as well as being a doting husband and father. If anything he’s a bit too perfect, also being extremely intelligent, but I can see him as a bit of an homage to the golden age private investigators like Hercule Poirot (I’ve been to see McCullough speak twice and on both occasions she has talked of her love for a good whodunnit). There’s a fabulous female ‘civilian’ working with the police called Delia Carstairs (who is eventually deputised and is instrumental in solving the case) and a cast of other intriguing heroes, villains and bit players.
I managed to keep track of this tale in the well-narrated audio version but due to the complexity of the tale I wouldn’t recommend it for audio book novices. Any way you read it though I would highly recommend this romp of a yarn with its larger than life characters and absurdly complicated story full of criminal masterminds, cold war espionage and heroic investigators.read more