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Onyx reviews: Memorial Day by Harry Shannon

That Mick Callahan considers his gig as host of a late-night radio call-in program in the remote desert town of Dry Wells, Nevada part of his recovery is the clearest indication of how far he has fallen. Callahan is the epitome of the flawed hero. He once trained to be a Navy Seal and had a successful career as a Frasier-like television psychologist. Now he takes things one day at a time as a reformed alcoholic who had an abusive childhood, desperately searching for the big break to pull him out of the gutter.

Dry Wells isn't a big break, but it's a way of making a little cash in his former hometown before he returns to California for the interview that might give him a second chance. He tries to overcome the humiliation of dead air broken only by wrong numbers and prank calls, but when a young woman claims she's in fear of her life from an abusive partner, Callahan has a flashback to an earlier situation where a woman was killed after he was too busy and too self-involved to respond to her cry for help.

It's déjà vu all over again when the young woman who called herself Ophelia is found dead the following day during Memorial Day festivities. Callahan can't resist sticking his nose into the investigation, especially when the sheriff—with whom he has a checkered history—warns him off.

Ophelia's suspicious death is the second in as many days, which qualifies as a killing spree in Dry Wells. There aren't many suspects to choose from, either, and it's hard to come up with good red herrings, either. There is a complicated scheme involving drugs and influence among the wealthier residents, and Callahan's task is more about unraveling what's going on under the town's skin than discovering who is responsible.

Callahan has a lot of history with the people of Dry Wells; old friendships and ancient animosities, all of which complicate his investigation and his life. He resists entanglement with an old girlfriend who still carries a torch for him in spite of the shabby way he once treated her. He is graced with an oddball pair of sidekicks: his very resourceful AA sponsor who helps him by remote control while flitting around Europe, and Jerry, a geeky hacker whose apartment is packed with all the latest in computer technology. Jerry is Callahan's conscience as well as a source of information. Every time Callahan threatens to pack it in, Jerry guilts him into continuing his investigation.

Stories like this work best when a clock is running against the protagonist to give it extra urgency. Callahan's deadline is the Hollywood interview. If he doesn't sort things out by the end of the weekend, he may have to leave town—which wouldn't upset many of the locals—for his carved-in-stone date in L.A.

The book's ending becomes a little overconvoluted as revelation is heaped upon revelation and some readers may be taken aback by an eleventh hour disclosure that seems to come from nowhere.

Author Harry Shannon has published primarily in the horror genre until now, but his personal experience as a therapist allows him to arm Callahan with the vocabulary of the trade. Nearly every encounter he has is like a miniature therapy session and Callahan's insights seem—at least to an outsider—sharp and on the money. A solid first effort in the genre and hopefully the beginning of a Callahan series.

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