By Julia Spencer-Fleming, Minotaur Books, 327 pages

The first half of One Was A Soldier follows a loosely knit group of Iraq war vets back home to their small, upstate New York town. At war they are “brothers and sisters in arms”, but now, stateside, despite group therapy, the burdens of readjustment are crushing. When one of the five commits suicide the story reconvenes as a murder mystery in a quick-paced style quite unlike the story’s initial promise. The carefully drawn characters of the first half jump on and off the page attempting to solve a murder(s), while the careful balance between drama and tension evaporates. Julia Spencer-Fleming is a considerable story crafter, but her story spins away from the delicate ebb and flow between the characters’ lives back at home and the effects of their duties in the war zone. The problem? They substitute resolving the crimes for resolving their own issues. Note: if you ever get this group therapist – run! Much emphasis is given to events that have taken place prior to the story’s beginning, which gives this story the feeling that it is the second or third in a series. But there is no mention of previous episodes. This reviewer couldn’t put it down. The first half.

Bryan Burch