Book Review: Margaret Truman’s Murder at the CDC by Jon Land
By John ValeriFebruary 16, 2022
USA Today bestseller Jon Land is one of the most prodigious and prolific authors working in the suspense genre today. With an impressive backlist of award-winning series and standalone titles (and non-fiction collaborations) to his credit, he has also written eleven thrillers featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong (more to come!) and recently penned six entries in the long-running Murder, She Wrote canon. This February, Land returns with Margaret Truman’s Murder at the CDC, his second effort in the venerable Capitol Crimes series (and the 32nd overall).
In an early (and all too evocative) scene, several bystanders—including eight high school students—are fatally gunned down on the steps of the capitol building, their assassin also felled in a hail of bullets. One of the witnesses is the grandson of international private investigator Robert Brixton, and his harrowing tale of survival begets more questions than answers. Meanwhile, Capitol Police officer Kelly Lofton also uncovers compelling evidence that the incident may have been less straightforward than it seems. When the attempted murder of a CDC employee necessitates Brixton’s involvement, he has reason to become acquainted with Lofton—and their joint investigation uncovers a myriad of manipulation and murder.
Now and then collide when the two find themselves hot on the trail of a military tanker truck that went missing in 2017, along with its human occupants and deadly contents (aka “White Death”)—which was meant for destruction but disappeared instead. Just what, if anything, that has to do with the present-day violence remains unknown, though the implications are frightening, far-reaching, and arguably familiar (even as the book plays out in a post-COVID world). Throw in an extremist zealot (Deacon Frank Wilhyte), a corruptible politician, and a divided republic and you’ve got the makings of a contemporary Civil War in the New America.
Land never fails to deliver page-turning action, but he doesn’t skimp on emotional resonance to do it. For instance, Brixton and Wilhyte (among other POV characters)—who can easily be viewed as stand-ins for Good and Evil—are each given vivid backstories that both humanize them and serve as their motivation, albeit to different ends. This exposition is critical to grounding the more outlandish elements of the plot, but it doesn’t jeopardize narrative momentum. Consequently, heightened personal stakes coupled with the threat of a(nother) insurrection are likely to resound with readers. Such melding of emotion and intellect perfectly illustrates why genre fiction is a powerful lens through which to illuminate (could be) fact.
While Murder at the CDC honors Margaret Truman’s literary legacy, it’s got Jon Land’s fingerprints all over it. With its ticking time clock, intersecting storylines, and amalgamation of fact and fiction—not to mention the fate of an unsuspecting nation hanging in the balance—this story would be instantly recognizable as the author’s work even if it didn’t bear his name. Which is to say that readers get their fill of Washington politics, power, and prestige along with a corker of a plot that’s as unputdownable as it is unsettling.