Thomas & Mercer, PB, $15.95, 372 pages, ISBN 978-1503936867
It was a lucky day for all of us when my wife June’s book club decided to read this outstanding first novel, written by a Colorado author and published in 2016. Smart group those dozen-plus ladies, all college or public librarians, administrators and professional women, the core group of which—including June–has been meeting on the first Tuesday of the month for close to thirty years. So, when my darling spouse said, “I think you’d really like this novel,” I paid attention. I’m glad I did, and you will be too, because it’s nothing less than epic. The best first novel I have ever seen.
Blood on the Tracks, by Barbara Nickless, will introduce readers to two of the toughest and most endearing characters in all of modern crime fiction. Their names are Sydney Rose Parnell, and her K9 companion, a Belgian Malinois war dog named Clyde. They’re a pair of ex-US marines who saw war service in Iraq, both are suffering from PTSD—Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome—and they each see the ghosts of comrades who died in the war. Now, they’re back in Denver where Sydney Rose grew up. It’s where she works as a railroad police Special Agent for the fictional Denver Pacific Continental Railway. She’s called in to help investigate by the Denver Major Crimes Unit when a savage, inhuman and cruel murder of a young woman takes place near railway property. She had been an activist amongst the homeless and transients living alongside the train tracks and the only suspect is a disfigured Iraq war veteran known only as the Burned Man because of his facial scars. The burned man and the murdered woman were about to marry, but he may be the killer . . . he was found with a bloody knife . . . but can’t remember what happened. He doesn’t think he killed her, but can’t be sure. The Denver homicide cops are convinced he did, but as Sydney Rose combs through the homeless camps searching for answers, her doubts mount and grow as she discovers a far-reaching conspiracy going all the way back to Iraq, and involving train-riding gangs of skinheads, white supremacists and militants, all of whom want to shut her down . . . permanently. The action and the pathos begins on page one and carries through to the final, pulse-pounding confrontation and battle in this thriller of thrillers. Barbara Nickless is an author we’ll be a fan of from now on. And hey, here’s great news! The second installment of the Sydney Rose Parnell and Clyde saga entitled Dead Stop, is already published and available. Their third adventure, Ambush, will be out early next year. Stay tuned, it’s gonna be one helluva train ride!