Blood on the Tracks: A Novel Summary & Study Guide

Barbara Nickless
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This section contains 1,620 words
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Blood on the Tracks: A Novel Summary & Study Guide Description

Blood on the Tracks: A Novel Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Blood on the Tracks: A Novel by Barbara Nickless.

The following version of the novel was used to create this study guide: Nickless, Barbara. Blood on the Tracks. Thomas & Mercer, October 1, 2016. Kindle.

In the novel Blood on the Tracks by Barbara Nickless, a young woman’s murder sent Marine Corporal Sydney Rose Parnell on an unwelcome trip down memory lane when Parnell realized that evidence in the case she was investigating might incriminate her. Two tours of duty in Iraq left Parnell not only suffering with PTSD but also battling the ghosts of the people she processed working in Mortuary Affairs. Parnell at first feared the victim, Elise Hensley, was killed to keep her quiet about the cover-up of the death of a Marine and Iraqi interpreter, but it turned out the source of evil was much closer to Elise than Parnell could have imagined.

Tucker Rhodes, a Marine badly burned in an IED explosion in Iraq hurried home to Elise after Elise assured him that she loved him, no matter what he looked like or how bad he thought he was. Rhodes sensed something was not right before he even entered Elise’s apartment. When he opened the door to Elise’s bedroom, he had a flashback to Iraq when he was accused of having murdered an Iraqi woman. Rhodes came to his senses in a gas station bathroom. He had a knife and blood on his clothes. He did not know what he had done to Elise if he had done anything.

Parnell, a special agent with the railroad, was called by Denver Police detective Michael Cohen to the scene of Elise’s murder because there were hobo signs, associated with the transients who lived along the railway, left at Elise’s house. Parnell recognized Elise as being the niece of Nik Lasko. Nik had helped to raise Elise. He had also helped to raise Parnell after her father abandoned her and her mother was put in jail for murder.

When Parnell told Nik about Elise’s murder, Nik believed that Elise’s boyfriend, Rhodes, was the one who had hurt her. They went together to the camp near the railroad where they believed Rhodes had been staying. Parnell believed that Rhodes intended to catch a train to Montana, where he was from, and kill himself based on the food supply he had left in the camp. Parnell, however, wanted justice for Elise.

Working with the Denver police department and the Larimer County Sheriff’s Department, the train on which it was believed Rhodes had ridden out on was searched but he could not be located. A report that Rhodes had gotten off the train in Fort Collins made officers call off the search for Rhodes because a snowstorm was getting dangerous. Parnell’s K9, Clyde, picked up Rhodes trail. Parnell and Clyde tracked Rhodes even though Nik and other officers told them it was too dangerous to do so.

When Parnell and Clyde located Rhodes, Parnell recognized him from Iraq. While in Habbaniyah, they had both played a role in covering up the murder of a Marine and Iraqi translator by insurgents because they had been sleeping together. Rhodes told Parnell that he did not believe that he had killed Elise. Knowing that if Rhodes went to trial, the story of Habbaniyah would come out, Parnell considered killing Rhodes to save the life she wanted to live. Because she was the one who altered the bodies to make it appear the two had died under different circumstances, Parnell knew she faced a court martial and possible prison time.

Instead of letting what Parnell called her war self get the best of her, Parnell carried Rhodes back to safety. They were met by Nik, who was alone. Nik tried to shoot Rhodes even though Parnell and Clyde were in danger of being shot as well. Nik put down his gun only when other deputies arrived.

During a private conversation with Rhodes, Parnell learned that Rhodes had told Elise about what had happened in Habbaniyah. Elise had been upset and believed that everyone involved in the cover-up should confess to their roles. Rhodes believes that Elise was killed because she was asking questions about Habbaniyah. Following this lead, Parnell questioned another man in Rhodes’ platoon. As a result, Parnell was paid a visit by a Max Udell, a Marine sergeant, who informed her that he had been ordered to kill her because she was asking questions about Habbaniyah. Udell was in the process of questioning Parnell about her boyfriend in Iraq, a man named Doug Ayers, whom Udell claimed was a spy when Parnell was able to overtake Udell and turn the questioning on him. She convinced him to let her remain alive by threatening to kill him. Udell told her that he did not know who had killed Elise but if she had been killed because of Habbaniyah, her death would have looked like an accident or a suicide, not an obvious murder.

Meanwhile, Parnell and Cohen had been investigating a different lead on Elise’s death. They learned from a transient that Elise had a private investigator, Thomas Brown, asking the transients questions about the disappearance of Jazmine Brown. It was first believed that Jazmine had been killed by members of a neo-Nazi group that terrorized the railway. When all of the suspects gave verifiable alibis, it was decided that Jazmine had just run away. Her brother, Brown, who was dying, wanted to find out what had happened to his sister. One of the transients told Parnell and Cohen that Brown was planning to pay a visit to a man by the nickname of Whip, the man who leads the group of skinheads. Inside the house where Whip lived, Parnell and Cohen discovered that Brown had been tortured to death.

The plot takes another turn when Parnell learns that Gentry, Nik’s son, was among those questioned about Jazmine’s death. Gentry had hung around with the skinhead group for a while before he realized they were not good for him. Parnell confronted Nik about Gentry’s time with the group and if he believed Gentry was responsible for hurting Jazmine. Nik said he believed his son was innocent.

Later, Parnell learned that Nik had disappeared. No one knew where Gentry was either. Parnell believed that Nik had gone in search of his son, who had possibly been kidnapped by the skinheads to keep him quiet about what happened to Jasmine. Parnell tracked them to a bar in Wiggins. Both Gentry and Nik’s vehicles were parked outside this bar. Inside, Nik was confronting a group of skinheads, asking them where Gentry was. Nik and Parnell shot all of the skinheads in the bar when those skinheads tried to pull weapons. One teen was allowed to live so that he could direct them to the place where Gentry was being held captive. The teen told Parnell and Nik that the skinheads planned to kill Gentry because he had betrayed them.

Parnell and Nik worked together to clear the camp and find Gentry. As she tried to catch up with Nik who had gone ahead to try to free Gentry, who was already being led to the tracks, Parnell came face-to-face with Whip. He shot Clyde when Clyde tried to attack him. In hand-to-hand combat, Parnell’s foot slipped causing her and Whip to fall down an embankment into a canyon over which a railroad bridge crossed. Whip came at Parnell again at the bottom of the canyon but Parnell surprised him by shooting him in the abdomen. She grabbed a rock and hit him multiple times in the face, telling him it was retribution for what he had done to Clyde, Liz, Brown, and Jazmine.

Using what little strength she had left and badly wounded, Parnell climbed the trestle to the top of the railroad bridge where the skinheads had Gentry laying on the tracks. Nik and Parnell finished killing the skinheads just before they saw the headlight of the train bearing down on them. They began carrying him off the bridge but Nik’s foot caught in the ties. He ordered Parnell to go on without him. She accused him of being the one who had killed Elise in order to protect Gentry. He admitted he had, saying that he believed he’d had no choice. Parnell got Gentry to safety but did not have time to go back and rescue Nik.

Parnell never told anyone that Nik was guilty of killing Elise. Whip was deemed guilty of killing Elise. Parnell believed it was ironic because it was the only crime that he had not committed. Parnell was not found guilty of any wrongdoing in the deaths of all of the skinheads. Parnell was so badly hurt that she was in the hospital for three weeks. Gentry was in intensive care for two weeks. One day during a visit to Gentry, Gentry swore to Parnell that he had not hurt Jazmine. He told her that he had not helped her either though he knew what the skinheads had planned.

On the day that Parnell was to leave the hospital, Rhodes paid her a visit. He told her that he and Elise were grateful to her. She reminded him that the fact that he had loved Elise and that she had loved him back meant his head and heart were all right even though he believed both were damaged because of the war. When the nurse wheeled Parnell out of the hospital, she saw Cohen as he waited at the car. She intended to give a relationship a chance even though she had no idea what might be in store for them.

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