BLOOD ON THE TRACKS
Author: Barbara Nickless
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Series: Sydney Rose Parnell #1
Format: Paperback, 386 pages
Back Cover Blurb
A young woman is found brutally murdered, and the main suspect is the victim’s fiancé, a hideously scarred Iraq War vet known as the Burned Man. But railroad police Special Agent Sydney Rose Parnell, brought in by the Denver Major Crimes unit to help investigate, can’t shake the feeling that larger forces are behind this apparent crime of passion.
In the depths of an icy winter, Parnell and her K9 partner, Clyde ― both haunted by their time in Iraq ― descend into the underground world of a savage gang of rail riders. There, they uncover a wide-reaching conspiracy and a series of shocking crimes. Crimes that threaten everything Parnell holds dear.
As the search for the truth puts her directly in the path of the killer, Parnell must struggle with a deadly question: Can she fight monsters without becoming one herself?
What I Thought
What is compelling about Blood on the Tracks is that it is tough and gritty, dark and brutal, but also, in places, uplifting and hopeful. And while essentially a murder mystery cut with a great deal of taut suspense, it’s also about family and the bonds of extended family. How they can be both fragile and yet, so strong, as to bind and blind us at the same time.
Like many of the secondary characters, Sydney Rose Parnell is a scarred Iraqi war vet troubled by her past and what she saw in the war. Not only that, she has a deep dark secret she’s sworn never to reveal that, later in the story, threatens to consume her. The more she finds out about the events that shaped her state of being in the here and now, the more troubled she becomes by the revelations. Leaving her wondering who can she trust? An answer that is left open ended and a thread, I am sure, that will be explored in subsequent instalments.
This intriguing side plot effects events as they unfold in the main story, as Parnell searches for a killer. And while we are presented with one person being the possible suspect, Nickless muddies the water when it becomes obvious, this isn’t as clear cut as it seems. We’re presented with a number of other possible scenarios, and the further Sydney digs beneath the surface, tugging at loose threads that reveal more is going on, the more we are drawn down into darker depths.
The stories woven in between the hunt for a killer, highlight a savage underbelly of Nazi-loving skinheads, ritualistic murders, childhood gangs and, ultimately, revenge. And as Sydney and her K9 partner, Clyde, along with Denver murder detective, Cohen, dig, the more they are disgusted by what they find.
Well written, this is at times, taut, fast paced and deeply introspective, as we learn a great deal about the events that shaped Sydney, and her life in Iraq. Eventful, impactive, and revealing, this might be a search for a killer, but it is also so much more. The author really takes us on a journey into bitter events that shape us, and how those events affect us years and decades later.
I found the author’s writing style easy to read, and, considering this is a debut novel, it was extremely well crafted. From the settings and sense of place, to the depth of all the characters involved, to the pacing which constantly kept us on our toes. This is a thoroughly well researched and written first offering that swallowed me up, as I walked side by side with Sydney and Clyde, a partnership I can’t wait to read more of.
The bond between woman and dog essential in making this work, and done to perfection. There is emotional depth and heartfelt feeling here, as we understand how broken and yet, how strong Sydney is, when faced with troubling events and even harder decisions.
Thoroughly immersive, Blood on the Tracks, is both a taut page-turning thriller and a heart-wrenching character study. If you love a good twisted mystery, characters that are darkly shaded by their past, and stories that may well haunt you, then I highly recommend you read this one.