I almost didn't finish HOMEFRONT. It begins with a school playground argument wherein a bully named Terry Klumpe gets a swift comeuppance administered by eight-year-old Kit Broker. Kit's mother and father --- Nina Pryce and Phil Broker --- aren't your garden-variety PTA parents. They've relocated to Glacier Falls, MN, so that Pryce, a Delta Force Army marksman, can recuperate from the aftereffects of a mission that has left her physically and psychologically devastated. Broker is a retired --- and legendary --- law enforcement officer. Kit, who was only defending herself in the dustup, gets blamed for it, and Broker kind of wimps out over it. Add to this Broker's gratuitous yada-yada about the Iraqi War, and I was almost ready to add HOMEFRONT to the reject pile. I was extremely glad I didn't, because it turns out that this is one of the best novels I've read this year.
Chuck Logan has been building the Phil Broker/Nina Pryce series for a while now; HOMEFRONT is the fifth installment, and by far the best. The little playground drama I mentioned above is a catalyst for a whole bunch of things. Little Mr. Klumpe comes by his beetle brow honestly; he is the child of Jimmy Klumpe and Cassie Bodine, both of whom have family trees that fork instead of branch. Klumpe, who owns the local waste disposal business, has a good portion of the town intimidated, while Bodine has a crystal meth addiction that rides her like a cowboy.
Klumpe escalates the situation by bringing Gator Bodine, his brother-in-law, into the mix. Gator at first seems to be a good ol' boy with a very warped sense of humor, but Logan, with almost agonizing patience, peels back the fragile, deceptive layers of normality that permit Gator to apparently co-exist with those around him.
When Gator discovers Broker's true background, he contacts a party who is quite interested in the current whereabouts of the retired officer. Gator plans to use his knowledge to leverage some assistance with an illicit business he quietly has been developing. Broker and Pryce, trying to rebuild their tenuous relationship while Pryce recuperates from the physical and mental ravages of her injury, are unaware that an immediate and terrible danger is on the verge of confronting them and their daughter, at a time when their defenses are at their lowest ebb.
Logan is not yet a household name, and that is a shame. This guy is a master of description and plot, intertwining the two into a story where anything can, and does, happen. Logan doesn't just create bad guys; he manufactures penultimate bogeymen who are incredibly realistic, almost normal in fact but for a telling physical or mental quirk that gives hint to the seething madness beneath. Logan also is a master of pacing; he ratchets up the events of the novel slowly, then kicks out the jams toward a denouement that you won't want to read without having a defibrillator greased up and at the ready.
Seriously: the last 60 pages of HOMEFRONT are heartstopping, heartbreaking, and heartwarming, sometimes simultaneously. This is one that you absolutely should not miss, at the risk of cheating yourself.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011