Ian Smith

"The Blackbird Papers"

(reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JUN 01, 2004)

The Blackbird Papers by Ian Smith

Dartmouth College professor Wilson Bledsoe didn’t want to stop...fresh from a party thrown in his honor, he’s hurrying home to his wife and his favorite dinner, and doesn’t want to pull over in the dark of the night, in the pouring down rain, to help the two men stranded with their truck along side the road. But he’s a good person, and he gets out to see what he can do. He’ll soon wish he hadn’t.

The two men...rough looking and gun toting...know who he is, and they want him to come with them. He runs for it --giving us hope despite the cover blurb-- but, still he is murdered. When his brother is called, they don‘t know that he is dead; he's still only "missing." The brother is Sterling Bledsoe, a much younger man who is just getting past years of jealousy and hurt caused by their parents' adoration of his genius older brother. He’s an FBI agent, and he manages to get permission to go down and hunt for Wilson. Sadly, when they find his body, his chest bears a racial slur carved in it, a brand on his hip points to a local white supremacist group.

Even as the suspects are being rounded up and the case is considered solved, Sterling is unconvinced...there’s something wrong, and he soon learns that there is something that someone doesn’t want him to find out. His brother wrote one word on his ankle, a word that takes Sterling to a reference on blackbirds...and everyone knows that the brilliant ethnologist was working obsessively with blackbirds; in fact, he was only a few lines short of completing a critical paper that took him a year to write. What is the secret that people keep warning Sterling about? And why is everyone so eager to close the case?

The story speeds up from there. There are many reversals, people trying to set him up for the murder of his own brother, people trying to kill him as he relentlessly follows the clues. You kind of figure, story logic being the way it is, that there’s something that Wilson discovered about the blackbirds that people want to keep quiet...and I wasn’t surprised to discover the identities of one of the bad guys...but the whole of it, just how far the conspiracy goes, the black mail involved and secrets revealed is surprising and well done.

The other thing about this story that works so well is Sterling’s discovery of the brother he never allowed himself to know. Wilson was the icon that their parents compared Sterling to, and while Sterling was just as bright (if in different ways) they never gave him any attention or encouragement. Even though the two met a couple of times, and he was beginning to like his brother, he never really knew him, but now, as he does an autopsy on his brother’s life he sees the whole picture. The fine qualities that made everyone love him, the weaknesses, and the obsessions; and, his determination to do right no matter what. We find a Wilson not just worth admiring, but worth loving. Through that contrast, we learn to care for Sterling, as well.

Ian Smith’s name may ring a bell...he’s a medical correspondent for NBC news and has made appearances on Today. He's a man with a clever turn of phrase...some of the things he says are simply beautiful, and he has a good hand for description that made me long to see Dartmouth college area. His story and characters are smart and compelling, and I hope that The Blackbird Papers aren’t the only ones we see from him.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 64 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Blackbird Papers at RandomHouse.com

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About the Author:

Dr. Ian SmithIan Smith, M.D. has been an award-winning medical correspondent for NBC News and a contributor to the Today show. He is a columnist for the New York Daily News and Men's Health and a commentator for NPR’s Tavis Smiley show and for the nationally syndicated TV talk show The View

Dr. Smith graduated from Harvard College with an AB and received a master's in science education from Columbia University. He attended Dartmouth Medical School and completed the last two years of his medical education and graduated from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

A native of Danbury, Connecticut, Smith currently lives in New York City.

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