David Grann, a staff writer at The New Yorker, is the author of The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon.

The most profound and haunting detective stories are, ultimately, not about the tidy solving of a mystery. This week’s New Yorker story, “The Avenger,” by Patrick Radden Keefe, is a powerful illustration. The story traces the quest by Ken Dornstein to solve the case of the Lockerbie terrorist bombing, which killed all 259 passengers aboard Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, and 11 people on the ground in Scotland. One of the passengers was Dorstein’s older brother, David. 

For nearly 30 years, Ken Dornstein has tried to find out who plotted the bombing, and to track down and confront his brother’s killers. As Keefe’s remarkable story demonstrates, Dornstein, a journalist and filmmaker who once worked as a private eye, is a keen investigator. He is able to piece together clues and make startling discoveries about the case that not even the U.S. government discovered. But what makes the New Yorker story, as well a three-part documentary that Dornstein has made for PBS's Frontline, so powerful is that they are about more than a cracking a case. They are about retribution and loss and the search for closure, the deeper human mysteries that not even the most brilliant detection can ever solve.