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Friday, July 15, 2016


5 stars out of 5

Former private investigator Finn Harding lost his license a few years back, but that hasn't slowed him down a whit. Granted, he has to be more careful about running afoul of the law, but he's been making a decent living by operating in the shadows of the underground. This time, he's contacted by the father of a son who was tortured and murdered some 30 years ago in Parkersburg, West Virginia. All these years later, the intent is to find the two who did the deed and who, at the time, were just 9 years old. Tried and convicted as adults, they spent only a few years in a juvenile prison before being released. Problem is, it appears they disappeared into the government's witness protection program and now could be anywhere in the world.

Finn is a bit torn because taking the case means he'll have to be away from his Cincinnati home, the young daughter he sees on weekends and an ex-wife who seems to be leaning toward reconciliation (he won't miss his Columbo-loving father, with whom he makes his home, nearly as much). Then too, he has ethical concerns over what the father intends to do to the pair after they're found; but in the end, the details of the murder are so gruesome that Finn sets his worries aside and agrees to help.

As expected, locating the pair isn't easy, given that their original identities have been wiped off the face of earth as we know it. So here and there, Finn enlists help from a few friends - all interesting in their own rights - who have ways of ferreting out background information on just about anyone anywhere. The search takes him from Parkersburg to Texas and Tennessee - and quickly puts him in the crosshairs of a female FBI agent who's determined to thwart his efforts and let the two sleeping dogs lie where they were planted lo those many years ago. 

That also means finding the pair will prove more difficult than it might otherwise be - and involves a lot of boring grunt work. Finn spends hours, for instance, watching a suspect's home for activity as he tries to make a positive identification ("Stakeouts are worse than anal fissures and church," he quips at one point). But eventually, he gets what he's after.

And that's the end of that. Or not: Although the culprits have been located, Finn learns details about their current lives that make him think twice about revealing their whereabouts to the murdered boy's father. He also learns he's not the only one who was hired; someone else has a vested interest in finding the culprits - someone who's perfectly willing and extremely able to take out anyone who gets in his way, including Finn himself.

For the record, this is the third in the Finn series, but it stands well on its own. In fact, I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first, The Shadow Broker, which I received via NetGalley in exchange for a review. Somehow, the next one, Scar Tissue, got lost in my ever-growing stack of to-read books (an oversight I fully intend to rectify as soon as possible), but when the author offered me the chance to read and review this one, saying yes was a no-brainer. Admittedly, my interest in the series as a whole is heightened because I grew up not far from Cincinnati, and I really enjoy reading books set in places I know fairly well (now that I'm in the northeastern part of the Buckeye State, another favorite author is Les Roberts, whose P.I. Milan Jacovich lives in Cleveland).

This one hooked me with mention of Parkersburg, where my husband and I have spent a number of vacation hours as we poked our way in and around historic Marietta (just across the Ohio River). If anything, Book No. 3 is even better than the first one, and I don't hesitate to say this is one of the best series of its kind that I've read in a while. Highly recommended! 

The Prison Guard's Son by Trace Conger (Black Mill Books, July 2016); 236 pp.

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