NCIS Special Agent Fran Setliff has a lot on her plate, including a cat that likes to wake her up by sucking on her ear. (“Fran suspected the cat was brain-damaged, but with a cat, diagnosis was tricky.”) Her romantic interest, a lawyer from the Judge Advocate’s Office, isn’t exactly the perfect match: she’s from Alabama; he’s a Yankee. “He wore a pinkie ring, for instance. In Alabama, that was on par with a man buying his skivvies at Frederick’s of Hollywood,” N.P. Simpson writes in her debut thriller, B.O.Q. “Grandma Pattle once remarked that Yankees talked too fast to be good husbands. ‘A man who talks that fast just naturally says more things that he can’t take back.’” Besides that, he may not be available, despite all his flirting.
And because Fran is also the only woman on Camp Lejeune’s NCIS team, she also feels the pressure to prove herself. That opportunity comes when the body of Ann Burkhalter is found floating in the New River. Burkhalter, a journalist and the wife of a retired officer, often came back to Camp Lejeune to visit, staying in the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters (B.O.Q.) when she did. Now Fran and her team must discover if her drowning is a suicide, an accident, or murder.
Clues abound. Ann had hinted that she was on to a story about Camp Lejeune, and now rumors are flying: some believe she was writing about homophobia on the base, some say it was sexism, and others think she was following a story about sexual harassment. On the other hand, Ann’s daughter was in therapy, and the relationship between Ann and the therapist is suspect. In fact, secrets are everywhere, and even those that have nothing to do with Ann’s death could mean ruined reputations and careers. And as Fran investigates further, the danger gets closer to her own door.
N. P. Simpson grew up in Memphis and once worked at the Camp Lejeune staff newspaper. In B.O.Q. she offers a fresh take on the police procedural. A military base is, in many ways, a world to itself, and Simpson shows readers the difficulties of investigating a death in such an enclosed, hierarchical institution.
And in Fran Setliff, Simpson has created an engaging protagonist with a heart firmly in Alabama. On the way back to camp after an interview, Fran listens to a Chieftans’ CD, which reminds her of home: “The traditional pipes and fiddles made her homesick for central Alabama. Where she once rassled with her barefoot brothers and caught night crawlers and ringworm at the same time. Who wouldn’t get a little choked up?” And a set-up with an Alabama-born captain fails because he’s an Auburn graduate: “Fixing up Bama and Auburn alumni was like trying to match-make across the Gaza Strip,” Simpson writes.
B.O.Q. is a fast-paced, entertaining novel that will make good company for airports or beaches this summer. And with any luck, readers will have more opportunities to go sleuthing with Fran Setliff.