Written by JJ Hensley — The winter sport of biathlon combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. Athletes taking part combine heart-pumping physical endurance with cool and calm shooting accuracy, and many have developed these abilities in the military. If you’re not aware of this Winter Olympics event, JJ Hensley’s novel will bring you up to speed.
Trevor Galloway used to be an undercover narcotics cop in Pittsburgh. In Bolt Action Remedy, he is brought in as a private consultant to try to solve a year-old murder in rural Washaway Township. Galloway is not actually a licensed private detective, but one of his few friends left on the force throws work his way from time to time. Around the same time controversial land as developer Peter Lanskard was murdered in the grounds of his home, Galloway was being held and tortured by an Eastern European drugs gang operating in Pittsburgh. The abuse he suffered over three days left him looking a decade older, but when he shot down one of his captors a few months later he was dismissed from the force.
And there’s more. Galloway has the ability to put himself into a kind of trance during which he can visualise the crime he is investigating and almost experience it as as if he was there on the scene. This is why Lanskard’s daughter, Susan, wants him to help with the police investigation.
Lanskard’s involvement in the oil and gas industry made him a divisive figure in the local community, and he was accustomed to receiving threats. He had a 24-hour security detail and an extensive perimeter alarm system on his property. On the day of his murder, he returned from town, and then the alarm went off. His security team attempted to usher him into the house, while they looked into what triggered the alarm. He was shot, from a distance of several hundred yards, before he could get to safety.
Then there’s the biathlon connection. Right next door to Lanskard’s property is a biathlon training ground. The local police have already considered the fact that the competitors have just the kind of skillset required for this particular the murder as well as the proximity. However, it is members of the local population who had more motive to kill the man than the competitors, who fly in annually from around the country. Another complication is that the calibre of bullet used to kill Lanskard doesn’t match that of the specialised biathlon rifle. If the murderer returned to the camp from Lanskard’s property, they should have been spotted by the security team who were investigating the perimeter breach.
The more you read of Galloway’s investigation the more you will appreciate JJ Hensley’s interesting set up and hardboiled style. It is like a locked-room mystery set in a wide open space. The author’s inventiveness and confidence is displayed throughout the book. Hensley is an ex-detective himself, and you would expect him to be fluent with the investigative aspects of the novel, but he is strong in other areas too. The tone of the book is just right, dark in places, particularly around the fears that Galloway’s psyche is deteriorating, but also tender and funny at times. The intrusion of Galloway’s old drugs case into the mix adds drama and a sense of threat to the investigation.
Galloway is an interesting protagonist, damaged but self-deprecating, and his back story and extraordinary investigative abilities lead me to think there is lots more to discover about him. The ending certainly leaves scope for a sequel, and it would be great to see the author develop a series based on Bolt Action Remedy.
Down & Out Books
CFL Rating: 4 Stars