BOOKS AND COVERS AND JUDGMENTS
The first sentence of the first chapter just sucked me right in: “The eagle ate well that day.” Now, despite all the patriotic hoopla surrounding our national bird, an eagle is nothing but a buzzard with a Wall Street hairstyle and an Armani suit. So that one sentence told me that Victoria Houston was getting right down to the business of murder in this 7th entry in her Loon Lake series.
By the end of the first chapter, we have our body. Actually, we have three bodies, all trapped in a baby blue convertible overturned in a ditch on a back road. A Forest Service ranger, hurrying home to start his summer vacation, makes the grisly discovery and phones it in between bouts of nausea.
Chief of Police Lew Ferris is swamped with the problems associated with the area’s annual Country Music Fest and asks Doc Osborne to check out the accident and make tentative ID, if possible. When Doc arrives, he sees the patiently waiting eagle and a patiently waiting, but green-around-the-gills forest ranger. And he sees a car he recognizes immediately. The next thing he registers is that the damage caused by the carrion-eating eagle has only continued what a bullet to each of three brains started.
The driver of the distinctive convertible was Peg Garmin, a long-time Loon Lake resident living on a multi-million dollar piece of lakefront property. Most people in town snidely think they know where that money came from. Peg’s husband had been a corrupt cop in Chicago and a mob bagman who had been paid well to keep his mouth shut and serve a felony conviction. Until his early and unexpected death five years ago, they had owned and operated a highly successful bar-restaurant-resort in Loon Lake. With his death, Peg was forced to sell the resort, presumably going back to her previous occupation, earning her current money on her back.
But Peg was more than just a pliant body to several people in town, including Ray Pradt. Very sensitive to other’s problems and surprisingly un-jaded, Peg had been Ray’s mother’s best friend and had helped Ray to understand the cause of his mother’s alcoholism. Called to the scene to take evidence photos, Ray is devastated when he learns that one of the victims is Peg. After learning from Doc that the three women were probably dead before the car wrecked, an angry and determined Ray, using his prodigious tracking skills, soon finds the actual murder site in a clearing not far away. And now the hunt is on.
Victoria Houston writes cozies in which “who-done-it” is usually easy for the reader to figure out early on. But, by writing the story from Doc’s viewpoint only, she makes it much more difficult for the reader to figure out the “why-done-it.” Crafting a capable and professional investigation, Houston leads the reader systemically to the “why” and a final confrontation with the “who” that does not require a suspension of disbelief to resolve.
There is no cliffhanger and there are actually no hooks leading toward a next novel. But, as usual, Houston can’t keep her demographic facts straight from one chapter to the next. At least Houston is consistent in that regard – all her books are that way. I have just learned to roll my eyes at the obvious inconsistencies and focus on the expressiveness of her language, the comprehension she has of human emotion and her characterizations of a very effective investigative team. Those aspects of the writing far outweigh whether Doc’s outboard is a 9.9 Merc on one page and a 10 hp Merc on another, even if, to a boater and to an engine manufacturer, that is an important and noticeable difference.
Cover Art From Goodreads