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Chantilly, Va.–based crime writer John H. Matthews is back with his hero, private detective Eddie Holland, in another police drama shoot-’em-up. Ballyvaughan is set in Austin, Texas where Eddie is trying to evade the revenge-seeking son of someone he killed in the line of duty.
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There’s a problem with the phrase “in the line of duty,” though. Eddie did his killing from Virginia, where he signed off on drone kills in Afghanistan and Pakistan; in one of them, he managed to incinerate a former IRA terrorist. Fans of the unmanned aerial drone assassination program are hard to find these days, but even so, having the chief villain of a crime thriller go after drone killers poses a problem. Does he target the person who remotely manned the drone? The one who signed off on the attack? Somebody further up in the military hierarchy? In Ballyvaughan, the fallen man’s son sets his sights—randomly, perhaps—on Eddie.
At the start, the book’s chapters alternate between the perspectives of Eddie and his stalker. It happens that Eddie is at work on a stalker case of his own, which involves a local singer whose biggest fan has gone off the deep end. As Eddie searches for this heavy-breathing loon, his would-be killer makes a beeline for him. The results: lots of explosions, a few dead bodies, plenty of armament, and frantic attempts to locate the professional assassin, who proceeds to attack Eddie’s best friend, client, father, sister, girlfriend—anyone in his social orbit.
Ballyvaughan’s fast-paced action rivals that of television cop shows; Eddie can’t stop to catch his breath, for if he does, his enemy will have bumped off someone dear to him. From the opening scene, where Eddie rescues a cafeteria full of children from a random psycho killer, to the lockdown of his father’s nursing home, the basic message is that no place is safe from idiots with guns.
Without knowing where Matthews stands on gun control, it’s safe to say that after reading a story like this, the old right-wing adage that everyone needs a gun to defend themselves seems more perverse than ever. Like many crime thrillers, Ballyvaughan is chock full of people who should not have access to guns. But then, if they couldn’t get guns, there would be no story; besides, professional assassins, good or bad, will always have access to guns.
This novel is one outburst of murder and mayhem after another, with little time for character development, big themes, or nuance. But these are not the chief features of crime fiction. Action is the thing thriller audiences crave, and Matthews certainly delivers.
Matthews visits Mobius Records in Fairfax on Sept. 12.