Suffering from insomnia, wise-cracking tough guy Thomas O’Shea goes for a late-night stroll through the peaceful streets of Rockbluff, Iowa, and finds himself pausing downtown on the bridge that spans the Whitetail River. When he glances downstream, something catches his eye…something that looks like a body. He scrambles down to the riverbank, pulling the body of a young girl from the water. The girl is naked, with two bullet holes in the back of her head. Ever suspicious of law enforcement, O’Shea chooses not to mention the bullet holes when Deputy Stephen Doltch, on routine patrol, discovers him at the river’s edge.
When the coroner’s report lists the cause of death as “drowning,” Thomas confronts the coroner, but his questions are met with hostility. Then the coroner and his wife disappear, along with the body of the dead girl.
Teaming up with his friend Lunatic Mooning and Clancy Dominguez, an old buddy from his Navy SEAL days, Thomas and the other two men join together to bring justice to the dead girl, a quest that takes them to the Chalaka Reservation in Minnesota, seedy businesses adjacent to the Chalaka Casino, and straight into the world of organized crime.
A fast-paced story, laugh-out-loud moments and familiar, quirky characters from Carenen’s debut novel, Signs of Struggle, continue to enliven the complex world of Thomas O’Shea. Once again, Thomas gears up to find answers that will reveal who put the bullets in the girl’s head, why she was killed, and her identity, which may hit a little too close to home…
His name is Thomas O’Shea and I’m in love with him. But we have no future. My name is Olivia Olson, best know as “Liv” to Thomas and just about everyone who knows me at all.
I met Thomas early on in John Carenen’s debut novel, Signs of Struggle, set in Rockbluff, Iowa, where I grew up, where I left to go to college, and where I came back to teach English at Rockbluff High School. I love Rockbluff. It’s my hometown, where so many of my friends have been friends since before kindergarten. That kind of stability is a good thing, especially when one’s husband leaves and moves to Baltimore to be with his life partner. Yeah. Deep hurt for sure.
My life after my husband left me settled down into a convenient kind of rhythm – the ebbs and flows of the seasons, each with its own beauty here in Iowa; the school year and my duties there; and the inevitability of my own seasons as I grow older. I had pretty much accepted the fact that I would be single for the rest of my life and I was at peace with that. By that, I mean I was at peace with that fairly pleasant, productive future until I bumped into Thomas when each of us was walking a dog.
I have Milton, a Jack Russell Terrier, and we were taking a stroll down by the school that early summer afternoon. School was out for the summer, and as I came around a corner with Milton on his leash, there was Thomas with his English Bulldog, her name is Gotcha, and he was doing the same thing with his dog, except Gotcha was not on a leash – she is under voice command; Thomas’ voice command. After I got to know him, I could understand.
I was taken aback by his, well, presence. There was something intriguing about the man, and not just his size. Thomas is big. And not in the belly, either. His shoulders are broad and his arms are muscular and I admit I allowed myself to wonder what it would be like for him to hold me. But I had my 40th birthday a while ago and am not some starry-eyed high school girl gawking at the star athlete. Still, there was something about Thomas O’Shea- a nice smile and a soft voice, but pain in his face that grew when I asked him about his family, just to be conversational. And when he answered, I understood where the pain in his eyes came from. His wife and two daughters had been killed in a car-truck accident near Atlanta, and he was without family – except for Gotcha. Sort of like me and Winston, except the only death in my family was hope for a nice married life with children.
Thomas was nice to me and polite and pleasant, and then I began to learn more and more about him. He seemed to attract trouble. No, he didn’t start it, but when he stumbled into it, he, well, he took care of the trouble. He had skills I couldn’t imagine. And he frightened me, too. He beat up two bums in a seedy bar, men who attacked him for asking questions about a friend of theirs. Two men were hired to kill him one late night, and he crippled them both. More men, professionals, came to his home to shoot him to death and he shot them to death. Trouble, everywhere he turned, and I found myself in an approach-avoid attitude. But the night he defended himself in his home, he called me and asked if he could come over. I could tell he was troubled.
I encouraged him. And while he was on the way I took a quick shower, slipped into a red thong, baggy shorts, and a flimsy blouse. No bra. No shame. He noticed. We drank wine. He stayed with me.
But when a professional killer came to take him out for nosing around in a sleazy, multi-million dollar land fraud, I ended up getting shot. Nothing serious, but I have a scar at the base of my neck. But it wasn’t getting shot that made me turn away, it was his drinking and the fact that he attracted trouble and I was afraid we would both get killed, and for a while, that kept us apart.
In the sequel to Signs of Struggle, Thomas and I move forward with our lives with each other. In A Far Gone Night, trouble shows up again with Thomas discovering a dead Ojibwe Indian girl in the river, and it all starts up again – the trouble, the violence, the drinking, the pain. So when he asks me to marry him, well, I have to make up my mind.
I mean, do I accept, knowing I could be a widow at some point, because to tell the truth, people do try to kill Thomas, or not accept, and just be his lover? I guess you’ll have to read the books to figure us out. If you do, let me know. You can reach me in Rockbluff, Iowa. Name’s Liv Olson.
About the Author
John Carenen, a native of Clinton, Iowa, graduated with an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing from the prestigious University of Iowa Writers Workshop and has been writing ever since. His work has appeared in numerous popular and literary magazines, and he has been a featured columnist in newspapers in North and South Carolina. A novel, Son-up, Son-down was published by the National Institute of Mental Health.
His debut Thomas O’Shea mystery novel, Signs of Struggle, was published in October of 2012. A Far Gone Night, the long-anticipated sequel, continues the exploits of the enigmatic protagonist and the quirky characters of Rockbluff, Iowa.
John is currently an English professor at Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina. He and his wife live in their cozy cottage down a quiet lane in northern Greenville, South Carolina. He is a big fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes and Boston Red Sox.
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