By Thomas Lakeman, St. Martin's/Minotaur, 2009, 308 pp., $25.95.
Nearly three years ago, Alabama author Thomas Lakeman astonished fans of crime fiction with The Shadow Catchers and its uncanny sense of place and culture. Set in the mountain communities of Nevada, that book introduced Mike Yeager, FBI agent with a penchant for protecting children at all cost, and his boss Peggy Weaver, who offers her support at all the right times.
Last year brought Chillwater Cove, in which Yeager is a secondary character in a thriller that follows Peggy Weaver on her return to her small Tennessee home town to solve a mystery from 25 years earlier, a mystery involving child endangerment. It has that same remarkable sense of place and culture as the debut novel does.
Now comes Broken Wing, a book that refuses to settle into the pattern that the first two books seem to be establishing.
Walking out on his wedding to Peggy Weaver is very, very real, but the child pornography charges Mike Yeager is facing are a sham, smoke and mirrors while he is rescuing a woman, kidnapped along with her husband, somewhere in New Orleans. After the husband is killed, the Bureau discovers that the woman is pregnant and being auctioned off to the highest bidder. To gain the trust of the people holding the woman, Yeager poses as a "broken wing," a rogue agent.
Maintaining that trust, however, won't be easy, for heading the conspiracy is Emelio St.Clair Barca, "last great crime boss of Orleans Parish."
Barca, it seems, once tried to eliminate Yeager, not just because twenty years ago Yeager had an affair with Barca's daughter Sofia. Now Yeager discovers that the aggressive young agent assigned to ride heard over him in the Big Easy is his son by Sofia, someone he never knew existed.
Rescuing the kidnapped woman, however, becomes incidental to the drama playing out for Yeager as he moves through the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He uncovers a conspiracy that has roots not only in his own past but in what Peggy Weaver uncovers about hers in Chillwater Cove. And because Lakeman is interested not so much in the crime as the crime fighter, that conspiracy becomes as unsettling a moral dilemma for New Orleans as Yeager's son becomes for him.
Broken Wing is Thomas Lakeman's best book yet. It is an absolute page-turner, but those pages are being turned because the book is inhabited by real characters vividly brought to life in situations alien to most of us. To his credit, Lakeman has allowed both Mike Yeager and Peggy Weaver — and the books they inhabit — to grow, to expand into a series that promises to move in new and surprising directions.
Steven Whitton is a Professor of English at Jacksonville State University.