Blood on the Tracks


Review: Blood on the Tracks by Barbara Nickless

For my fourth novel in the R.I.P. Challenge, I read The Raven Boys. In case you missed my earlier post and reading lineup, here is the concept behind this challenge:

Started by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings, R.I.P. is a reading challenge in which imbibers come “together to enjoy the literature most associated with the darkening days and cooling temperatures of Autumn:”

Dark Fantasy


Blood on the Tracks features railroad police Special Agent Sydney Parnell and her canine partner Clyde. (I didn’t know railroads had special agents, did you?) Special Agent Parnell suffers from debilitating PTSD incurred when she was a Marine in the Iraq War. Late at night, reliving memories and fielding stress, she pops pills, smokes cigarettes, and pours fingers of whiskey.

Like Parnell, Clyde suffers from PTSD, which is why Parnell was able to bring him home from Iraq. Can I just say I’m in love with Clyde?

Readers are taken on multiple flashbacks to the war in Iraq and the troubling events leading up to Clyde and Parnell’s nightmares and the death of Clyde’s handler and Parnell’s boyfriend, Dougie. The flashbacks are well placed, providing insight into the present story without detracting from it. The present story involves a brutally murdered, community-centered woman and the Burned Man, another Iraq War Marine turned hobo, who is accused of killing her. Now this was interesting. I thought the word hobo was pejorative. Apparently, I was wrong. There still exists a train-hopping culture of people who call themselves hobos. There are hobo conventions, hobo symbols, hobo beads, and even a hobo code of ethics. I’d never heard of hobo beads, but they play an important role in Blood on the Tracks.

As Parnell delves further into the murder, she begins to suspect that the Burned Man is innocent. The clues she uncovers point in many directions, even back to events in Iraq. Along the way, she teams up with Detective Cohen, another damaged officer, and they begin a push-pull sexually charged working relationship.

Oh, and bonuses of bonuses…Parnell sees dead people! I wasn’t expecting that, but how happy I was.

Sydney Parnell reminds me of V.I. Warshawski from Sara Paretsky’s detective series, so if you like that series, you should like Blood on the Tracks. Like V.I., Sydney is smart, tough, hard-drinking, and almost super-humanly strong. (I’d like to be super-humanly strong myself, but, alas, I’m something of a wimp.)

An aside: If, in addition to strong female detectives, you love service dogs in fiction (like I do), you should also check out Suspect by Robert Crais.

I had some issues with Parnell’s behavior at times, particularly the drawn out I-want-him-I-want-him-not game with Detective Cohen. And as one reviewer noted, with the combination of pills and alcohol Parnell imbibes, it’s a miracle she still possesses a liver. Overall, though, I enjoyed this mystery quite a bit and imagine I’ll continue with the series.

For lots more reviews of perilous books, films, and short stories, please visit the R.I.P. review site.

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