cover image Swann’s War

Swann’s War

Michael Oren. Dzanc, $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-950539-60-4

Journalist, novelist, and former Israeli ambassador Oren (To All Who Call in Truth) opens his overwrought latest with an engaging premise: what would happen if the police chief of a normally tranquil Massachusetts island joins the Marines during WWII and his wife has to replace him during an outbreak of murders? As a series of bodies are discovered in the waters and swamps off of Fourth Cliff, interim police chief Mary Beth Swann finds herself fighting on several fronts; against skeptical and disrespectful townspeople, FBI agents, interloper Louis Corvelli, a Mafia boss from the mainland, and a multitude of suspects. The murder victims are all Italian POWs who were held at the island’s prison, and the most prominent suspects include an Army lieutenant, a fellow POW, Corvelli, and a shell-shocked ex-bomber. Oren succeeds at getting readers invested, and there are some nice descriptions of the bleak setting (the ocean’s waves “rose and fell uninvitingly”), though the plot strains credulity as Corvelli’s henchmen attack the FBI agents, and the dialogue feels like outtakes from a B-movie. Most exasperatingly, a story that seems intended to exhibit a woman’s empowerment ends up dwelling on Mary Beth’s incompetence. An accomplished journalist and diplomat, Oren does better when sticking to the facts. (Oct.)