"Chisolm's Debt" by local author Frank Zafiro finally gives a starring role to one of the most popular characters in his River City crme fiction series. Officer Thomas Chisolm was an important supporting character in "Under a Raging Moon," "Heroes Often Fail", "Beneath a Weeping Sky" and the most recent River City novel "And Every Man Has to Die." Now, it is his turn to take a lead role as he deals with the consequences of a horrible event that happened during the Vietnam conflict.
Zafiro's new novella begins with Chisolm retiring from the River City Police Department in 2004 (shortly after the events of "And Every Man Has to Die"), which may be a bit difficult for long-time fans to accept. Chisolm has been a friend and mentor to Katie MacLeod and many of Zafiro's other recurring characters, so it may take a little while to accept that he probably will be less involved in future River City novels. The majority of the story takes place six years later in 2010 when a woman from his past comes back to demand a favor.
A Vietnamese woman named Mai is looking for an American soldier who tried to rape her. Chisolm stopped him, but he wasn't able to see justice done. This event has haunted Chisolm ever since it happened back in 1969. Mai, understandably, still bears a grudge. She hired a private investigator who tracks Chisolm down and persuades him to find the rapist so Chisolm can offer him a chance to make amends before Mai has him prosecuted under military law for his old war crime.
Long-time Zafiro readers will eventually figure out that events described in flashbacks set during the Vietnam conflict are more detailed versions of two related incidents Chisolm spends some time thinking about in "Under a Raging Moon." However, being familiar with that book is not necessary to enjoy "Chisolm's Debt." The novella works well as a standalone story and Zafiro provides his readers with everything they need to know.
The chapters set in Vietnam in 1969 are fast-paced, exciting and full of gritty details that ring true as he describes Chisolm, who was then a staff sergeant in the Green Berets, going on dangerous missions with his best friend Bobby Ramirez. Zafiro is a U.S. Army veteran with experience in military intelligence, so he is able to get the jargon right and vividly capture something of what it must have been like to be an infantry soldier in that environment.
Zafiro handles the shift in tone well as Chisolm stumbles across Mai being sexually assaulted on two separate occasions. The first time, it is an NVA soldier and Chisolm kills him. The second time, it is an American G.I. named Pittz and Chisolm beats him unconscious and turns him over to the lieutenant in charge of Pittz's platoon. Mai demands that he kill the American too and obviously feels betrayed when he refuses to do it. The story from then on is really about some of the horrors of war and how people deal with them in different ways.
Zafiro carefully deals with some challenging subject matter as he has Chisolm finally start coming to terms with his old regrets in the process of finding Pittz. Another veteran he talks to as he looks for Pittz suggests that the men who were killed in action were the lucky ones because they don't have to live with what they had seen and done. At first, Chisolm thinks he may be right but he ultimately rejects that point of view.
In 2010, Chisolm finally tracks down Pittz and attempts to make things right with Mai. Saying anything more about the plot would ruin the story, so suffice it say that Zafiro brings the novella to a satisfying conclusion and then goes on to give it an even more satisfying true ending.
"Chisolm's Debt" will strongly appeal to fans of mysteries and action/suspense stories. River City fans will appreciate the focus on Chisolm, an appearance by MacLeod and references to significant parts of three of his novels. In addition to all of that, the novella is a beautifully written examination of guilt and redemption as Chisolm tries to atone for things he sees as his biggest failures in life. Over the course of the story, Chisolm struggles with concepts such as justice and moral debt and eventually finds some answers that bring him some peace.
"Chisolm's Debt" is available now for only $.99 as an ebook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and other online sources. Zafiro announced on his blog that a print edition should be available soon as well. It is well worth the purchase both for River City fans and anyone who enjoys a good detective story.