What if everything you thought you knew about your background, your
heritage and your parents was wrong? How would you feel? And what
would you do to discover the truth? This is ultimately the premise
of DEPARTMENT THIRTY, David Kent's debut novel. And if DEPARTMENT
THIRTY suffers at times from minor flaws, it is nonetheless a
compelling and ultimately satisfying read.
DEPARTMENT THIRTY is primarily the story of Ryan Elder, a radio
journalist who has been bouncing from job to job for seven years.
His inability to remain at one station for very long is the result
of a combination of bad luck, uncompromising journalistic
principles, and personality flaws. Elder tends to get a bit
explosive at times. This is somewhat understandable --- I mean, if
your parents committed suicide, practically in front of you, you'd
probably go a bit off the rails yourself. Elder, as DEPARTMENT
THIRTY begins, is investigating the story of his career when his
day suddenly and inexplicably. It turns out that the target of
Elder's investigation is related to the owner of the radio station
that employs him, and all it takes is a phone call down the chain
of command to get him fired.
When Elder returns home, he finds a mysterious letter waiting for
him, an envelope that was mailed to him from his mother --- the day
before she and his father committed suicide, seven years
previously. The envelope contains newspaper clippings and a piece
of paper with the words "Department Thirty" along with a telephone
number. Elder dials the number, an act that sets him on a trail
back to the home that he shared with his parents in Oklahoma City
and that within 24 hours will cause him to be running for his life
from an unknown assassin and an agency hidden deep within the
Federal government. With the assistance of an enigmatic young woman
dealing with tragic circumstances of her own, Elder discovers the
truth about his parents and the secret life they left behind over a
quarter-century before that now threatens not only their son, but
also the entire nation.
There are problems with DEPARTMENT THIRTY. It is easy to sympathize
with Elder, but it is extremely difficult to like him. There are
additionally some aspects of the plot that stretch the possibility
of suspending disbelief to the breaking point, particularly a
surprise occurrence that takes place near the end of the
Kent does an excellent job though of keeping Elder in dire straits
throughout most of the novel and accordingly keeping the level of
suspense high and, most importantly, the reader turning pages.
DEPARTMENT THIRTY is ultimately a promising debut.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011