Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel
Mike Domino’s seventh novel, Camp Hero, is a vigorous thriller with hints of noir around the edges.
Private investigator Bobby Fallon takes on a case in Montauk that becomes more complicated the deeper he goes. Fallon, a former Manhattan detective, was accused of killing the man who murdered his brother, another New York City cop. He was tried and acquitted but has been branded the Vigilante Cop. While it cost him his position on the force, it cuts a strong swathe with the townsmen of Montauk, an important fact as he enters the world of eastern Long Island.
Fallon has been dispatched from the City by the high end law firm for which he works to help clear the Montauk sheriff of an accusation that is most likely a set-up. Sheriff Kemp has been accused of sleeping with an underaged prostitute, which he flatly denies. Kemp, who cares for his two adult special needs children, is a tight-lipped fellow who gives Fallon little information to go on. Fallon trusts his instincts and realizes there is much more to the investigation.
In the midst of this, Senator Vance Hildreth is in league with multi-millionaire Matilda Wong, a Wall Street demagogue whose fortune was in pharmaceuticals, specifically a wonder drug called Zioxyn, a painkiller used for late stage cancer.
Fallon stays in a group of nearly deserted bungalows called The Beehives. There he meets and teams up with successful mystery writer Jennifer Connery, who becomes not just his assistant but an astute set of eyes on the case. They quickly become romantically involved as well.
At the center of the story is Camp Hero. Hildreth and Wong want to turn the old army base into a national park. But their motives are clearly not as pure as they sound. Hildreth is connected to organized crime and has no problem engaging help from the wrong side of the law. This he does to the tune of twenty-five million dollars.
There is a great deal about Camp Hero’s use during and after World War II. Top-secret experiments, the CIA, SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) radar, and Operation Paperclip (that covertly brought top Nazi scientists to the United States to work on rocket missile propulsion technologies) have all swirled around the site’s history.
In addition, alleged drums of nuclear waste dating back to 1958 are rumored to be beneath the empty facility. These speculations are important both to the building mystery and the final outcome. Domino knows how to lead the reader down one path and then swiftly alter to a separate course.
There is a nice peripheral piece introduced about Bonackers. These are the descendants of the original European settlers of Scottish and German lineage; much of the Bonacker lore is centered around the Hamptons and its environs. The early Bonackers were fisherman, cattlemen, and farmers. In later years, those still active are fisherman. Again, what seems like randomly introduced trivia and character background becomes germane to action later in the book.
Domino writes in an easy style, moving quickly from scene to scene and event to event. It has the right energy and pace for a thriller, and it is dialogue-rich, allowing the characters to speak for themselves, avoiding lengthy descriptions. One of the few places Domino goes for detailed narrative is a disturbing incident during a demolition. Both the accident and the reaction of those involved are well presented and have the complete ring of truth.
Mike Domino’s Camp Hero is a swift and entertaining thriller — and it takes place right in our own backyard.
A resident of Port Jefferson, author Mike Domino is also a feature filmmaker (“Mott Haven: Cash for Keys”) and the owner of Domino Plastics Company. Pick up a copy of his latest novel in paperback or on kindle at www.amazon.com. For more information, visit www.campheromontauk.com.