Maine author David Rosenfelt is known for his superbly plotted crime novels. He doesn’t fail with “Airtight,” his latest foray.

“Airtight” is based on one of the most intriguing premises I’ve encountered in crime fiction. A recently nominated federal Court of Appeals judge is brutally murdered. When protagonist Lucas Somers, a New Jersey cop, shoots and kills Steven Gallagher, a young addict whose clothes are covered with the victim’s blood and has the murder weapon in his possession, the case is closed.

Until, that is, Gallagher’s older brother appears.

Chris Gallagher, a black ops Force Recon Marine in Afghanistan, comes home on emergency leave. The elder Gallagher kidnaps Somers’ younger brother, Bryan, and imprisons him in a sealed space that has only a seven-day air supply. That’s the amount of time Gallagher gives Lucas to prove that Steven was innocent — or Bryan suffocates.

That’s just the beginning of the labyrinthine convolutions in the story. Almost all the many characters in the book live double lives, including Lucas, who is in love with Julie, his brother’s wife. But that doesn’t keep him from re-opening the murder case to hunt for the victim’s real killer — even though he’s far from convinced someone other than Steven Gallagher was the perpetrator.

If, in fact, there isn’t another perp — or if there is, but Lucas can’t find him in seven days — he is not beyond the idea of framing a believable suspect to free his brother from his death chamber.

The hunt quickly becomes entangled in a dark drama unfolding in a small New Jersey town, one tied to a case working its way through the appellate court. A battle royal is shaping up between the community and a prominent local businessman over his pending sale of a land tract to an oil and gas company that wants to start environmentally destructive fracking operations.

Would the murdered court nominee have been a decisive factor in the case if he’d been seated? It’s the only angle that Lucas thinks even marginally worth pursuing. All the while, his brother’s air supply is dwindling.

Violence begins erupting everywhere. Houses and cars are blown up; people are murdered — on all sides of the issue –while the community grows more fevered in its resistance to the fracking venture. All the while, Bryan’s life-sustaining air supply grows ever smaller.

The plot is a Rubik’s Cube of possibilities. But the more the story turns, the more challenging it becomes to make sense of it.

It is, at times, almost impossible to keep all the threads from twisting into knots. Contributing in part to the challenge is that not all seminal characters are sufficiently drawn for the reader to readily keep their identities and roles clearly in mind.

But once the reader reaches the end and goes back to retrace all the threads, there are clues that are almost neon.

It’s fun to test your wits against “Airtight.” Rosenfelt obviously enjoys challenging his readers to the task. He’s terrifically devious and inventive, with “Airtight” beginning with his diabolical inversion of Lucas needing to prove a “killer’s” innocence in order to save his brother.

Although there is a satisfying sense of poetic justice in the last page, the action didn’t strike me as completely in character with the only reasonable suspect. But it does give Rosenfelt’s novel an airtight ending — one for which no mourning is warranted.

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer, ghostwriter, writing coach and teacher. He can be reached via:


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