KIA: A Dr. Kel McKelvey Novel

KIA: A Dr. Kel McKelvey Novel

4.6 24
by Thomas Holland

The Pentagon brass make the designations: AWOL. MIA. KIA. Every soldier with a designation, and no man left behind. And Dr. Kel McKelvey is the man to bring those soldiers home -- from battlefields around the world.

When a soldier's remains are found in the Catholic cemetery of Thanh Lay Hamlet outside of the rechristened Ho Chi Minh City,See more details below


The Pentagon brass make the designations: AWOL. MIA. KIA. Every soldier with a designation, and no man left behind. And Dr. Kel McKelvey is the man to bring those soldiers home -- from battlefields around the world.

When a soldier's remains are found in the Catholic cemetery of Thanh Lay Hamlet outside of the rechristened Ho Chi Minh City, a reluctant Vietnamese government agrees to the repatriation of the body believed to be Master Sergeant Jimmy Lee Tenkiller. Tenkiller was a Native American soldier who went missing in the chaos of Saigon during the summer of 1970. For fourteen years, his designation was AWOL, until the Status Review Board voted 2-1 to change it to KIA.

Before the case can be closed, Dr. Kel McKelvey and his team at the Central Identification Lab must positively identify the body believed to be Jimmy Tenkiller. The skull's noble features suggest the sergeant's proud Choctaw-Cherokee heritage, but Kel's instincts give him pause. Using a combination of cutting-edge forensic technique and old fashioned anthropology, he sets out to unravel the chilling mystery of the body's identity. What he finds leads him deep into the Vietnamese wartime black market and into the haunted mind of Jimmy Tenkiller.

Assisting Kel on the case is his colleague and friend, Chief Warrant Officer Thomas Edward Lafayette "Shuck" Deveroux of the Army's Criminal Investigative Division. Shuck has been assigned to solve a series of brutal murders on military bases in Kentucky and Tennessee, and he reluctantly adds Kel's identification to his caseload. But when the two investigators team up, they soon realize that all of their dead men may be telling the same tale.

Dr. Kel McKelvey has devoted his life to bringing closure to the families of brave men and women who died fighting for their country. In KIA, he faces his greatest challenge yet -- to solve a chain of crimes committed bydesperate men in times of war and peace. The result is a mesmerizing thriller -- an intricate forensics case involving a fallen United States serviceman, from an author who is an expert in the field.

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Simon & Schuster
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Meet the Author

Thomas Holland is presently the Scientific Director of the Department of Defense's Central Identification Laboratory, the largest skeletal identification laboratory in the world. In this position he has led forensic recoveries around the world, from the barren deserts of Iraq to the steamy jungles of Vietnam to the snow-covered mountains of North Korea. In 1993, while conducting a recovery near the Killing Fields of Cambodia, his team came under a Khmer Rouge rocket attack and was forced to withdraw from its base camp under fire.

In the relative quiet of the Central Identification Laboratory, Holland holds the awesome responsibility for approving the identifications of all U.S. military personnel from past military conflicts. During his tenure this has included over 1000 soldiers from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War -- including the Vietnam Unknown Soldier from Arlington National Cemetery.

Holland received a bachelor's degree in fine art from the University of Missouri and a Master's degree and a Doctorate degree in anthropology from the same institution. He worked as an archaeologist and museum curator before taking a position with the Department of Defense. He is one of less than 80 Diplomates of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, a member of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, a member of the Council of Federal Forensic Laboratory Directors, and a consultant to the New York State Police. He routinely briefs high-ranking military and government officials including the secretaries of State and Defense, and has served in scientific advisory roles to the National Institute of Justice and the International Commission on Missing Persons.

Holland and his laboratory are frequently featured on such programs as Discovery, Nightline, 60 Minutes, National Public Radio, and Nova.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Baghdad, Iraq
Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Clear your weapon, sir."

Robert McKelvey shook loose from his heat-dulled thoughts and looked up. He saw a young staff sergeant in desert camo, his Kevlar helmet cocked at an angle in an effort to impart some style to the baggy uniform. The eye contact, even shielded as it was behind dark sunglasses, made it clear that McKelvey had missed something. "What's that, Sergeant?" McKelvey asked. His voice broke from dry heat and disuse.

The staff sergeant nodded at the nine-millimeter holstered on

McKelvey's hip. "Check your weapon, sir." McKelvey was following the sergeant's look to his own hip when someone slapped him on the back of his head, knocking his ball cap over his eyes. "C'mon, Doc. You been out in the desert too long." It was Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Perkins, head of one of the ISG's mobile task forces. "This ain't Dodge City. You're back in civilization now, son -- if you get my meaning. Check your weapon, and let's get us some chow. I've been eating goddamn MREs for the last two months." Perkins stepped in front of McKelvey, worked the bolt on his M-16, and dry-fired into a fifty-five-gallon drum half-filled with sand.

"Hey, bubba," McKelvey recovered from his surprise and replied as he pushed his cap up and began fumbling with his holster flap. "Heard you were up north somewhere." The two men had first met six months earlier when McKelvey was searching for a helicopter crash near the Kuwaiti border and the Iraq Support Group had been tapped for support. Perkins and his Mobil Task Force Sixteen had been pulled off their search for WMDs to augment the recovery team.

"Was. Got back this morning. How 'bout you? Word was that you were out west. Any success?" He watched McKelvey struggle with his holster as long as he could before reaching out and jerking the restraining flap up. "Let me help you there, Sergeant Rock."

"Thanks. Velcro can be tricky."

"Not to a trained professional. C'mon, I hear little Styrofoam bowls of Jell-O calling my name."

"Shit," McKelvey said as he removed the pistol from his holster. As the guard watched, he cocked and dry-fired it into the sand barrel, verifying that it was unloaded. It was always unloaded. They nodded in mutual affirmation, and McKelvey secured his weapon before returning his attention to Perkins. "They got Jell-O here?"

"You bet. Cool little squares of quivering paradise. I'm partial to the ones with banana slices in 'em. I like to suck 'em down in one gulp -- kinda like oysters." He was holding several long strips of plastic that hung in front of the door aside with his forearm, suggesting that McKelvey should go first. The cool of the air-conditioned interior filtered past the plastic strips that hung over the mess trailer's doorway. "Unfortunately, they're the first to go -- as in you need to get there early -- if you get my meaning."

"In that case, you best leave me behind. Every man for himself under the circumstances."

"Negative. Ranger rules. I will not leave a comrade behind even when the Jell-O is in sight. Nothing in the book that says I can't kick you in the ass, though, if you don't hurry up."

"Ranger rules?"

"Ranger rules."

McKelvey smiled and ducked through the doorway. Actually, they were early and the dinner crowd was light. They worked their way through the food line quickly, filling their trays with slabs of grilled steak and dollops of mashed potatoes and colorful mixed vegetables, all served by somber-browed local hires that McKelvey felt sure had been asked to leave their vials of ricin at home.

Perkins detoured past the dessert bar and arrived at the seat next to McKelvey with a tray overloaded with bowls of Jell-O. As McKelvey watched, he slurped down four lime-colored squares as if he were a finalist in a gelatin-eating contest. With a loud satisfied sigh, he looked up. "Man oh man, if that doesn't clean out the dust. I gotta buy stock in Jell-O. Gotta."

"You and me both. And to think they bothered flavoring it."

"They flavor it?"

McKelvey laughed and shifted gears. "So tell me, still lookin' for WMDs?"

Perkins smiled broadly and bobbed his head at McKelvey's waist. "Doc Kel with a sidearm. Shit if that isn't the closest thing to a weapon of mass destruction that I can think of."

"That's why they don't give me bullets. But, hey, if y'all aren't still lookin' for WMDs, then what's the Iraq Support Group up to nowadays, anyhow? In case you haven't heard, Saddam's history."

"Other duties as assigned." Perkins shrugged as he stacked his Jell-O bowls. "Nothing I can talk about -- if you get my meaning." He said that a great deal, whether you got his meaning or not.

"Hmmm," McKelvey acknowledged. He said that a great deal, especially when he didn't get the meaning. "Hmmm," he repeated as he forked some peas and carrots into his mouth.

"How about you?" Perkins asked as he began organizing the remaining food on his tray. "You involved in that war crimes shit?"

"I believe I'm innocent until proven guilty."

"Too bad. I was going to ask for your autograph. No, what I meant was that shit up north. Isn't someone digging up some of those mass graves north of here? I'd heard it was some guys from the Park Service or the Forest Service."

"Try Ringling Brothers. Nope, not us. Our folks are giving a wide berth to that tar baby." McKelvey took another bite of peas and carrots.

Perkins readjusted the empty Styrofoam bowls on his tray and squinted at McKelvey. "So what then? Secret squirrel type shit?"

"Not really. Three guys in a Humvee. No radio contact. No visual. Just disappeared."

"Shit to be them -- if you know what I mean. Any luck?"

"Let's just say we found the Humvee. More than that, I can't talk about."

"Roger that," Perkins said. "Understood. But tell me, Doc, why the hell you here? You did your time here six months ago. I don't know the details about this case you're working, but if it's not that sensitive, couldn't you have sent someone else? Things can't possibly be so bad at work that you'd volunteer for another trip to this shit show."

McKelvey took a bite of steak and chewed. "You have no idea."

Copyright © 2008 by Thomas Holland

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