Book Reviewed by Daniel Ryan Johnson
Vessels of Wrath is another strong showing from the talented Thomas D. Holland. Protagonist Ray Elmore, or “Big Ray” as he is commonly known to his chagrin, finds himself once again investigating a murder in the small, less-than-peaceful town of Split Tree, Arkansas. As the chief of police for this small town, Big Ray is pulled out of his normal routine when the county sheriff asks him for help investigating the apparent suicide of a friend. Purchase Here.
This third installment in the Big Ray Elmore series does not require the reader to have previous knowledge of the series to enjoy the story. However, diving deeper into the happenings of Split Tree will certainly enhance the experience. Set in 1963, the novel details a small-town murder investigation set against the backdrop of a country in turmoil amid the civil rights movement and the growing anticipation of the U.S. fully entering into the Vietnam War.
Mr. Holland’s character work is in top form throughout the novel, painting a clear and realistic picture of the players. Ray Elmore is the quintessential reluctant hero. Never having sought a position of power, Big Ray had the role of police chief thrust upon him years earlier. Despite a clear affinity for the job, he consistently downplays his aptitude while quietly punishing himself for his self-perceived shortcomings.
Vessels of Wrath pulls you back through time and firmly sets you down in a fictional town that is all too real. While set sixty years in the past, the novel echoes back the violence, hatred, and uncertainty that abounds today. The story expands beyond the investigation of a crime in a small town to explore the larger issues present throughout the world.
As he attempts to solve the mystery surrounding the death of Ring Johnson, Big Ray is faced with battles on several fronts. Between allegations of misconduct, the threat of an escaped convict, relationship issues regarding those closest to him, a personal nemesis, and the ever-present ghosts of war, Big Ray has his hands full as he attempts to solve the crime and keep the town of Split Tree and its inhabitants safe from harm.