A quiet little town on a summer's day. Bodies start dropping, people, a dog.
And so the body count smashes in as we start the third crime novel by PJ Tracy. Grace and Annie, computer experts from software house Monkeewrench are driving through the wilds with sheriff's deputy Sharon. Little do they know that a breakdown will drop them into panic and terror - but it's the skills that Grace and Annie learned over years of hiding from society and a serial killer that come to their aid.
Bereft of modern aids and communications, the three women have to evade a well-armed and murderous militia bent on mass murder. The clock's ticking as the fanatics plan to gas a town of 1,400 people.
Meanwhile, strange things are happening between FBI and local law enforcement. Secrecy, radio silences imposed, areas declared off limits, missing deputies - all baffle and frustrate the sheriffs who are responsible for policing these remote areas.
Into this mix head the two male members of Monkeewrench, plus Sheriff Halloran (in love with Sharon), Minneapolis detective Magozzi (in love with Grace) and his partner Gino - in love with his wife but she isn't involved. They have to use their wits, their deductive skills and their computer skills to find the women in thousands of square miles of mountains and forests.
So we have a simple enough plot, with the various groups coming together apace. Tracy aims for intensity and atmosphere in this novel and for the most part does it well. There are some memorable scenes, such as where the three women have to move through mud filled with the corpses of animals killed by Sarin, the nerve gas cooked up by the militia, or evade the troops in the absolute blackness of the heartland of America.
Is there a but? Alas, there is. Part of the good guys winning is deus ex machina at its worst - compounded by the fact that it's done almost without description. Here, whoops, gone. That's balanced by excellent descriptions of the fear and actions especially of the three women. This isn't the best of the Monkeewrench books but it is a good read and will be enjoyed by Tracy fans. I wouldn't start Tracy with this one though - go for the earlier books first.