Reviewer Steve Moore: Steve is a full-time writer and ex-scientist. Besides his many technical publications, he has written six sci-fi thrillers (one a novel for young adults), many short stories, and frequent comments on writing and the digital revolution in publishing. His interests also include physics, mathematics, genetics, robotics, forensics, and scientific ethics. Follow Here for his WEBSITE.
Author: John Hohn
I started reading this author’s new book with great expectations. I wasn’t disappointed. While his first book, Deadly Portfolio: A Killing in Hedge Funds, was good, this one is better. Breached is more an example of mixed genres, both psychological thriller and mystery. Here I use the first differently than what tradition dictates. It isn’t that the protagonist, a character from the first book, Detective James Raker (ex-Detective in this book), is suffering a psychological attack; it’s that two secondary victims, friends of Raker, have deep psychological problems. Of course, to make this a mystery, there’s a real victim a la Madame Christie (and more are added as the story continues). Raker and his girlfriend are visiting his old male friend in the North Carolina boonies when a dam inspector is shot. The mystery revolves around why, or even if it was an improbable accident, but, in the process, the ex-detective has to deal with both the girlfriend and old friend’s psychological problems (more on this below).
I won’t throw out any spoilers about why the dam inspector was murdered except to say that someone wants to declare the dam unsafe. Delving into the psychological problems of Raker’s friends is a related but almost independent story, making this book a study of two characters with ubiquitous problems that we tend to avoid talking about in our society. This study makes Mr. Hohn’s book almost unique, because too many crime stories or police procedurals focus on the forensics and the sleuthing, treating the next literary serial killer or evil corporation, instead of examining real problems our society faces.
First, the girlfriend, Diane Welborn. She has been seeing a therapist, but maybe that professional wasn’t good enough to get at the roots of her real problem, what her mind has tricked her into doing since she was sexually abused. It isn’t clear that poor Raker ever learns what’s wrong; he just knows that he can’t get close to the woman because she mentally slip-slides away. Having lost a wife of many years, a true partner in his life, he has a model for the “good woman,” and Diane is failing miserably. Adding to his anguish, Diane stays in his house one night only to be attacked and left unconscious there with the house ablaze, as the bad guys look for a mysterious file box of papers and try to cover their tracks. In her subsequent comatose deliriums, the reader learns her history.
Second, the old male friend, Art Nichols. He was in Vietnam. He came back with PTSD, as so many did from that war. The physical wounds of war are bad enough (I once tutored a blind Vietnam vet who needed a passing grade in Spanish to finish his psych degree so he could help his fellows—a life experience I’ll always cherish, because my student taught me much more than I taught him). The mental wounds are often worse. Back then, the usual treatment was minimal at best, and the advice was to suck it up and get on with your life. That often didn’t happen though, and Nichols is the epitome of how the affliction causes episodes many years later. Hohn captures this well.
I suspect some readers will find the descriptions of the friends’ psychological problems a wee bit tedious—they could seem a bit verbose, especially those about Diane. They’re handled via flashbacks, short in Nichols’ case, and long, coma-induced ones in Welborn’s case. Nevertheless, I found them more interesting than solving the main mystery, but that has many interesting twists and turns too. There’s enough here to keep any reader entertained. This is a very different book compared to the writer’s first. I hope for many more stories from this author in years to come as he builds new literary situations and landscapes in his imagination.