Dead Water

Dead Water_VictoriaHouston_1594033

GUNS, FISHING LURES AND PARENTHOOD

4 STARS

For once, our main protagonist does not discover the body in this third entry of the Loon Lake series. However, he is just around the bend in the creek when he hears the screams of the woman who has discovered the body. As a part-time deputy for the Loon Lake police department, Paul Osborne secures the scene then rows his kayak back to phone it in.

The situation he relates to Lew Ferris is a grisly one: a young woman is half-nude and tangled upside down in a hedge, having apparently been tossed off an old railroad trestle into the creek. A small bullet hole is in the back of her head, but her face has been blown away as a result of the bullet’s exit. Then there are the bite marks on her shoulders, four sets of marks by four distinctly different sets of teeth. Paul also notices that the way her blood has pooled in her body is counter to the position of her body, indicating that she has been killed elsewhere and dumped here.

Before Paul and Lew, the Chief of Police, can finish examining the crime scene and get a CSI team in place, a second body is reported. Again, the victim is a young woman. Again, there is the bullet to the back of the head, the blown-out face, the four bite marks and the inconsistent blood pooling. Apparently, Loon Lake has a serial killer in current residence.

Even without complete facial structures, tentative identification of the bodies comes quickly. The first woman Paul identifies by her dental structure as a former patient of his, Sandy Herre. The second body is identified, based on her clothing, by the owner of a B&B near where the body was found. Ashley Olson has been a guest at that B&B for several days, coming in from Kansas City. Sandy had been a struggling entrepreneur, just getting her accounting service started. Ashley had been an established entrepreneur, owning a highly successful marketing firm and worth millions at her death.

Then a third body shows up, but this one is alive and undamaged, at least not physically. Sixteen-year-old Nick (no last name provided) has just found out that his mother is really his aunt. He has learned that his biological mother, a prominent figure who escaped Loon Lake in her teenage years, does not want him in her life until after she has secured her next husband. And he has just been told that Ray Pradt is his father and that he has to live with Ray for the summer. Coincidentally, Ray Pradt didn’t know any of this either.

The final body shows up in the form of Gina Palmer, an investigative reporter from Kansas City and Ashley’s best friend. Like Nick, Gina is also alive and kicking and has been expecting something like this to happen to Ashley for several months. It is her intimate knowledge of Ashley’s background and recent circumstances that enables Paul and Lew to focus the direction of their investigation into both deaths, even though the victims are seemingly unrelated personally or professionally.

And while we’re talking about Gina, you will want to pay attention to her personality, particularly in the scenes where she first encounters Paul and Lew. You might want to pay even closer attention to the way in which she describes her job and the concealed weapon she carries. Because, later in the book, you will witness one of the most realistic transformations I have ever seen an author craft, when Gina’s ego and bravado come face to face with another person holding a gun, a person who not only craves the hunt but who lives for the kill.

Unfortunately, the author telegraphs the identity of the killer before Paul and Lew have even finished their examination of the second murder scene. Any experienced mystery reader, whether their favorite genre is cozy, hardboiled, romantic suspense or detective-based, will be able to spot the tell. It is subtle and not the result of the killer exposing himself or herself through an internal monologue. Since the book is told from Paul’s POV, we only know what Paul sees, hears and thinks. And something he observes provides the reader with the identity. Paul is just too inexperienced as an investigator to understand what he has seen.

Therefore, the reader spends 90% of the book watching and waiting while the team puts the clues together and navigates the red herrings thrown in their path. They are good red herrings, too, so the read goes quickly.

After having read the first three books in the Loon Lake series now, I can say one thing about this author’s style. Victoria Houston really knows how to craft an exciting, tension-filled denouement. You know the main characters survive because there are seven more books currently in the series, but you are certainly on the proverbial pins and needles wondering how they will be able to do it without the author succumbing to an illogical save. But, in the end, she manages the scene realistically and in keeping with the personalities and skills of the characters involved.

My only real complaint with this book (the early knowledge of the killer’s identity could be deliberate on the author’s part) is that Victoria Houston seemed to forget her own biography of Ray Pradt. For two books previously, he has been 6 feet 6 inches tall and about 36 years old. In this book, however, she repeatedly – and I do mean repeatedly – reports his height as one inch shorter and he has lost about three years in age.

It’s bad enough that the author doesn’t remember her own characters or doesn’t refresh her memory by re-reading her previous novel before writing the next. But, quite frankly, her editor and her beta readers should have caught the discrepancies immediately. If they are that obvious to the casual reader, they should practically jump out at a professional. And, by the way, Houston has reinvented the wheel with Lew Ferris also, as the physical description of Lew has significantly changed since the first novel.

But, on a good note, before the novel is over, Houston actually steps up the romance between Paul and Lew. The advance wouldn’t even rate a 0.5 on the Richter Scale, but it is touching and telling nevertheless. And it also sets the hook for the next book.

Cover Art From Goodreads

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