There’s a lot for people to be nervous about in author J.D. Rhoades’ newest novel, Gallows Pole. For starters, there’s a killer striking families nationwide, leaving in his wake a scene so disturbing it rattles even seasoned law enforcement veterans.
Entire families are being hanged in a methodical fashion, the father apparently made to be the executioner for his wife and each of his children in turn before taking his own life. Yet, enough clues have been left behind that it’s clear these were not murder-suicides. The process is too similar, the presentation at each scene too exact, and most chilling, a calling card from the killer has been left behind at each of the mass murders: a small iron horse.
Melissa Saxon, the FBI agent in charge of the investigation, understands she has her hands full with such a complex and sophisticated killer. When she receives a visit from two men who claim to have information about the killings she thinks it could be the break she’s looking for.
What she gets instead is an understanding that what’s going on is even bigger and more dangerous than she could possibly have imagined. The men who’ve come to her are surviving members of an elite counter-terrorist team known as Iron Horse, and they believe the killer is one of their own, a man known as The Hangman, gone rogue. They believe they can help catch the killer, but it won’t be easy. First they’ll have to reassemble their team, including their psychologically scarred leader, Colonel Mark Bishop.
Ever since the team’s return from Riyadh, Bishop has been in self-imposed isolation, haunted by the things he saw and, more damaging, was forced to do in the course of carrying out his team’s missions. One particular choice he made, to torture crucial information out of the only person who knew the location of one of Bishop’s captured team members, weighs especially heavily on his mind. If The Hangman is to be stopped, however, not only is Bishop going to have to confront his past demons, he’s going to have to be willing to walk back into hell.
What unfolds is a high stakes game of cat and mouse fueled by plenty of action, sophisticated military gadgetry, and the kind of teamwork and comradery that makes military-tinged thrillers so enjoyable. Not content just to present a cookie-cutter thriller, however, author J.D. Rhoades has infused Gallows Pole with a solid core of morality, and challenges readers to question the steps taken by Bishop and his team in their quest to catch The Hangman. Rhoades does so by presenting scenarios that push the limits of easy choices, which place the characters in the uncomfortable position of weighing their options and having to choose not what’s “right” and “wrong” – after all, that would be too easy – but between what’s “wrong” and… “less wrong.”
It’s a thought-provoking approach to the complicated mess the world has become, especially in post September 11, 2001 America, one that acknowledges choices aren’t always crystal clear, black and white. Rather, they are quite fuzzy, and are to be found somewhere amongst a thousand shades of grey. It takes a skilled hand to bring issues of such a serious nature into a work of fiction and not come across as preachy, simplistic, or to show your hand ideologically one way or the other, but Rhoades does so with aplomb.
Indeed, Gallows Pole is a book that will both entertain and challenge you. What more could you possibly ask for?
PS – Be sure to check out J.D.’s guest post, “Why I Wrote Gallows Pole,” in which he shares the story behind the story.