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Book Author: Andrew Welsh-Huggins

AN EMPTY GRAVE by Andrew Welsh-Huggins: Book Review

Andy Hayes, a Columbus, Ohio private eye, is a man who has a hard time saying no when someone comes to him needing help.  He’s in a restaurant with his sons, already running late to get them to a movie theater in time to see the previews, when a stranger walks up to their table and says in a loud voice, “What about murder?”

Without waiting for an invitation, Preston Campbell sits down and tells Andy the story of his father, a Columbus police officer who was shot in the line of duty forty years earlier while investigating a burglary.  Howie Campbell survived; the shooter, John J. Ebersole, was wounded, arrested, and brought to a hospital, but he disappeared from there and was never found.

Preston has been trying to track down the burglar for years via the Google alerts he’s set up, and he tells Andy that the criminal did the same thing in Rochester, New York, thirty years after Howie Campbell was wounded–committed a crime, got himself arrested, and promptly vanished.  Preston shows Andy what he feels is definite proof of the man’s whereabouts, a two-week old newspaper listing a John J. Ebersole as a relation of the man named in an obituary notice.

Then Preston’s sister Monica approaches Andy’s table, a resigned yet angry look on her face.  She hands Andy another piece of paper, this one from a Rochester newspaper dated ten years earlier.  Notorious Burglar Dies in Fire, it reads, and it gives the deceased’s name as John J. Ebersole.  Is it possible there are two men with the same rather unusual name?  Or was the man who died in the fire actually the criminal who had escaped justice for decades?

The morning following their restaurant encounter, Andy meets Preston and Monica at the former’s home.  Trying to bolster his case, Preston gives the investigator additional information, including the painful fact that Howie Campbell had died a month earlier, a suicide.  Preston can’t understand why the police and the district attorney’s offices never followed up on either of Ebersole’s disappearances from custody.  He remains firm in his belief that Ebersole is still alive and holds him responsible for his father’s death.

Then Andy meets Hillary Quinne, another private investigator, who is working on a different case.  The chairman of the board of McCulloh College, Grant Fulkerson, is running for a U. S. Senate seat and is concerned about the college’s involvement in an incident that reaches back years and may have a connection to the Campbell/Ebersole case and to one of the professors on the college’s staff at that time.  Andy meets Fulkerson, and the two men and Hillary agree to keep the others informed regarding what they discover.  But are Grant and Hillary telling him the whole truth, and can Andy really trust either of them?

An Empty Grave is an excellent mystery featuring a recognizably human investigator.  Readers will identify with Andy and admire his strengths and the dedication he brings to his clients.

The author of seven novels in this series, Andrew Welsh-Huggins is also a journalist based in Columbus and the editor of the Columbus Noir anthology.  You can read more about him at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.