A good historical mystery demands concentration on two tiers. On one level, the reader concentrates on the facts of the mystery, while on the other the details of the historical setting. The setting, in turn, enriches the mystery by placing it in cultural and historical context. And The Killing Practice is a good historical mystery.
It is post-Civil War Ohio where this suspenseful tale unwinds. There in the town of Willoughby, the devastation of the losses suffered by the small but growing community still hangs heavily over the town. There are the nine white tombstones not even eight years old for the young men of Willoughby who perished at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. There are the families who lost sons, some more than one.
The novel’s main character is its police chief, Hank Blankenship, a distinguished combat officer in the Civil War, and formerly an experienced investigator with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. But a series of grisly murders and missing children drives home to the thirty-two year old bachelor that he is sorely out of his depth. As he tells his closest friend in Willoughby, the intrepid newspaper editor, – “. . . This is all new to me; solving murders wasn’t one of our duties (at Pinkerton) . . . If we had, perhaps I’d know more about how to go about finding a killer . . . But I did have an exciting time chasing John (Wilkes) Booth after he shot President Lincoln . . . The closest I ever came to being involved in a murder.” Added to Blankenship’s lack of experience is the Town’s pathetically small and ineffective police force.
As the murders keep mounting, the townsfolk find themselves trapped in a collective dark mood of fear and sadness. Blankenship himself, is enveloped by the gloom and has to constantly resist the enervating effect it has upon him, as he fights mightily to overcome his inexperience, a hostile mayor, a frightened populace, an inadequate staff and an arrogant duo of physicians who run the Town’s principal claim to fame -- it’s esteemed medical college. But Blankenship is a man of honor and character, and his efforts to solve the crimes are unrelenting – bolstered by his consuming love for the Town’s school marm and his deep friendship with its newspaper editor, Adam Norville.
The novel is characterized by clean prose and effective dialogue. The plot and character development are equally good. Its pace and suspense hold the reader’s attention as the mystery deepens. The Killing Practice is a good read – especially for the summer months.
Review by Don Farinacci, MWSA Reviewer
Someone is killing the citizens of Willoughby to cover up a dark secret. As police chief, Hank Blankenship, a veteran of the Civil War, attempts to solve the murders he must deal with a matchmaking busy body, an inept fuzz-for-a-beard deputy, a mayor who wants him fired, and a town hell bent on spreading rumors.
Book Format(s): Soft cover
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Mystery/Thriller
Review Genre: Fiction—Historical Fiction
Number of Pages: 244