Set in the late 1980s, the eleventh and penultimate entry in Joseph Hansen's Dave Brandstetter series, is one of the best.
Dave is now officially retired and is showing and feeling his age. He's now on Medicare; other old friends who have populated this series are either dying or retiring themselves, and Dave is feeling the weight of his changing world bearing down on him, both physically and emotionally. But then Vaughn Thomas, an employee of a local television station, is shot and killed while engaged in a paintball game at a place called the Combat Zone.
The police conclude that Thomas was accidentally killed by a stray shot fired by a hunter from outside the Combat Zone and close the books on the case. But the victim was a fellow employee of Dave's lover, Cecil Harris, who also works at Channel 3. Cecil doesn't buy the official explanation of the death and asks Dave to look into it. Cecil would prefer, of course, that Dave do so quietly and without exposing himself to any sort of risk. But as any reader of crime fiction would say to that, "Fat chance," and in very short order, Dave is in deep trouble and grave danger.
Dave quickly discovers that Vaughn Thomas was a troubled young man with disturbing views about life. In particular, he was a virulent anti-Semite and a racist who longed to be a soldier of fortune and who had spent time training with a militia group in a small rural community named Winter Creek. As he investigates the case, Dave stirs up a hornets' nest and anger some pretty violent and reprehensible people. Other murders will follow and the case takes a lot of unexpected twists and turns.
Fans of the series will welcome this addition (or did, of course, since it first appeared twenty-two years ago) and crime fiction fans unfamiliar with the series would almost certainly enjoy it.
The only reservation I have about the book is the fact that Dave's lover, Cecil, would care enough about Vaughn Thomas's death to ask Dave to get involved in the first place, let alone risk life and limb to solve the mystery. Cecil is a black man and it's hard to imagine that he and Thomas could possibly have been friends at all, given the murdered man's racial views. But Dave needs some way into the case and this is as good as any. This is another very satisfying book from Hansen.