I love a good mystery. Unfortunately, one doesn't come along often
enough. Many of them read very much alike and the stories seem to
all blend together. I find frequently that the characters have no
distinctive personalities and their voices are flat. So I was
surprised --- and hugely delighted --- to find a mystery with some
real body by a writer who knows how to pace his plot. What a joy to
find this treasure. With THE BLACKBIRD PAPERS, Ian Smith kicks the
mystery/thriller genre up several notches, making this one of the
most satisfying books of the year.
A highly regarded Dartmouth College professor, on his way home from
a celebration in his honor, disappears within a mile of his house.
He has just called his wife on his cell phone when he encounters a
disabled pickup and stops to help the two men. His body is found
the next day, racial slurs crudely carved into it.
FBI agent Sterling Bledsoe receives an early morning call,
informing him of his brother's disappearance. Despite agency policy
to the contrary, Bledsoe tackles the case, traveling to the bucolic
town of Hanover, New Hampshire. Grappling with the guilt of
unresolved sibling rivalry, he works with a passion to bring his
brother's killer to justice, interviewing a host of campus and town
figures, both sinister ones and genuinely caring ones --- at least,
seemingly genuine. Meanwhile, his attempts to soothe his newly
widowed sister-in-law seem to be working, until she announces that
she simply has to get away. The house has too many reminders of her
dead husband. He understands, but worries about her. He throws
himself further into the mystery. The racial angle seems too
obvious to Sterling. He just can't quite buy it, so he doggedly
pursues other avenues, stirring up a hornet's nest of
Like I suspect many readers do, I looked over the dust jacket and
perused website reviews, savoring each comment and every delicious
morsel before launching headlong into the book. One of the
summaries revealed that Agent Bledsoe himself becomes the prime
suspect. I'll admit, I didn't see how that could be possible ---
until it happened. I was turned upside down on my ear. It came as a
smooth wallop to the senses. I nearly didn't know what hit me.
Suddenly, the story was being taken in a totally different
direction. Instead of the pursuer, Sterling becomes the fugitive.
For him, clearing his name doesn't quite take priority over finding
his brother's murderer, but, as you might guess, it certainly
complicates his investigation.
In addition to the superb twists, the reader is in for a great
treat at the revelation of who did the professor in and the
unraveling of motive. It is hard to believe that this is Ian
Smith's first foray into mystery/thriller writing. He is, simply
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on December 22, 2010