The hook is hard to resist. The body of Captain Ann Campbell, daughter of General Joe Campbell, is found — naked, spreadeagled, and staked to the ground — on a Fort Hadley rifle range. The rope around her neck indicates that she was strangled and her condition suggests rape. Paul Brenner, of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, knows the bizarre scene must have an equally strange explanation. His job is to find it, and the murderer.
Nelson DeMille makes this stuff look easy, but that’s all smoke and mirrors. There’s nothing easy about writing a compelling mystery, especially one like this, which could easily have slipped into prurience. But this is a book that, as its title tells us, is about Captain Campbell — her life, history, and personality. Though she is dead when we first see her, it is about bringing her to life and showing us how she met her tragic fate.
And so, like any mystery, information is paramount: when we get it, how we get it, and whom we get it from. DeMille doles it out beautifully, with a mix of detective work and forensics, interviews with suspects and acquaintances, and clues in Campbell’s personal effects. As the suspense builds, so does our understanding of Captain Campbell.
It’s a sordid story, but that’s not to say the book is depressing. It begins on a humorous note, as Paul discovers that fate has put him on the same base and in the same room with an old lover, Cynthia Sunhill. Their previous encounter didn’t end well, but Paul has carried a torch for her ever since. Because Cynthia is a rape specialist, she is assigned to work alongside Paul on the Campbell case. Their personal and professional interaction provides just the relief the Campbell case needs.
And then there’s Paul himself, who is like an early, somewhat toned down version of the author’s John Corey character. Also a loose cannon, also smart-mouthed, also a man’s man, Paul, however, is military, dealing with a military crime with mostly military suspects; it helps keep him from indulging in some of the more outrageous behavior that Corey gets away with. I don’t think he’s ultimately any more sensitive than Corey, but maybe his sensitivity is a little more evident here. He’s funny and tough and his heart is in the right place.
It’s a description that applies to the book itself. This is a page-turner with heart. The crime, we learn, is far more devastating that it at first appears (which is saying something), and DeMille handles it all with tact and grace.