Bookshelf – A Line in the Sand, Kevin Powers

They say all combat veterans bring some of their wars home with them. In the case of Arman Bajalan, an Iraqi translator for U.S. forces who is relocated to Virginia after his family is killed, he arrives on American soil not only burdened by the war but still actively pursued by it.

What transpires is one of the better crime thrillers I’ve read all year, a slam-bang mélange of greed, guns, and blood populated by well-drawn characters who only risk losing their authenticity when so many bullets fly and blades slash that you begin to wonder: Really, do people actually do these things? And then you realize: Of course they do, this is the U.S. of A., where shooting first is a common go-to option.

The plot spins around Bajalan, a witness to a horrific atrocity in Mosul, and includes murderous mercenary soldiers aka “private defense contractors;” Catherine Wheel, a Norfolk, Virginia, detective whose youth has faded but her passion for justice has not; her partner, Lamar Adams, new to the shield and still imbued with military manners, such as calling his partner ma’am; a troubled young reporter (the most cliched of the bunch); and a crusty-but-benign motel owner who takes young Bajalan under his wing and stars in a Taratino-esque shootout scene that will make a great cameo for some aging Hollywood star. (Stand by, Liam Neeson.)

Amid the fun, there is a subliminal, serious message if you choose to listen: That war long ago ceased to be a matter of territorial aggression; it is now an international business. Says a congressional aide to a reporter: “The borders that matter now aren’t between countries. They’re between tax brackets. Global citizens. Ultra-high-net-worth individuals. Someone’s from Iraq. You’re from Virginia. So what? The real countrymen are the guys with fifty million, a hundred million in assets.”

Makes sense to me.

As for the story itself, it goes fast, has more than one true surprise, and never loses its way. I suspect you might guess the end (I did) but doing so will do nothing to diminish the delight of following Powers’s twists and turns.