the-lynchpin‘The Lynchpin’ is the second novel by Jeffrey B. Burton featuring FBI Special Agent Drew Cady. Yes, an FBI sleuth is the hero and protagonist of a crime novel.

Why the surprise? I have read about FBI agents in crime fiction countless times before. M. Connelly has written novels centred around Special Agent Rachel Walling, though I only met her as a character in his Harry Bosch novels. But I’ve never read a novel with a federal agent in the leading role – my failing, I’ll admit –  and never before I found one painted in quite the same light as Drew Cady. He is dedicated, tenacious and brave, and intuitive as the best in the business. But he ticks other surprising boxes (for a fictional FBI agent) too: he’s likeable, maverick, laid-back and with a sense of humour.

Cady has waved good-bye to ten years of chasing violent felons, in the aftermath of the investigation featured in Jeffrey B. Burton’s first novel, ‘The Chessman’. He is now healing his physical and mental wounds in scenic northern Minnesota, helping his fiancée run a lake-side resort and working part-time for the FBI’s Medical Fraud Strike Force in Minneapolis. No suits and formal shoes, it’s  jeans and sneakers as he basks in the glow of a new, relaxed lifestyle.

But trouble comes hunting for him in the sinister form of the body of a young woman washed ashore on Lake Superior. The young woman has died in such a horrific and unusual way that it just has to be murder, and by a sadistic killer too. A reluctant Cady is co-opted into the investigation by the distraught Duluth police and teams up with a tough cop who’s as spare with words as she is decisive in action, and together they start a painstaking search to identify the dead girl and piece together the puzzle of her disappearance and death.

The novel’s prologue however features a night-time break-in by an unnamed assassin who ends up dead at the hands of his intended victim. Who turns out to be Roland Jund, Drew Cady’s former boss at the FBI. While the dead assassin turns out to be another FBI agent, with whose wife Jund was having an affair. And in no time Cady, out of allegiance for Jund, is plunged into a secret intelligence affair that stretches back to the Cold War era.

Jeffrey B. Burton has woven these twin plots, the investigation of a series of sadistic serial killings and of a spy ring featuring senior FBI and CIA operatives, into a gripping thriller. But the two strands remain essentially unrelated, tied together only by hard-working, much-travelled Cady’s efforts in both. Crime never stops and neither do crime-fighters, but I felt that either plot could have merited a full novel. Both in fact contain enough elements and characters to populate a fully-fledged mystery story.

Burton does a fine job  of juggling timelines and narrative pace but the fact that one of the two investigations is successfully cleared by roughly the middle of the novel I found an anticlimax. For no other reason that I felt the story was interesting enough – and Burton clearly a crime writer with enough ability – to stand alone as a gripping serial-killer novel.

The fact remains that Drew Cady is an engaging character with a fine investigative nose. He’s far from the unwavering, bureaucratised FBI detectives often depicted elsewhere, and though he does eventually come out literally with guns blazing in a Western-style shoot-out (Burton liked to read Louis L’Amour as a kid…), he’s not shy of showing his softer side, as loyal colleague and compassionate man of the law. Even when Cady or other characters slip into acronym-happy FBI talk or act out a bit of standard-issue cop behaviour, there’s plenty to like in Burton’s main characters. As well as plenty of convincing investigative details, and certainly plenty of pace and tension in the narrative, enough in fact for more than one novel!