A TREATISE ON BULLYING
For some ten books now in the Loon Lake series, Victoria Houston has crafted murder mysteries that can best be described as “cozies.” The town of Loon Lake and its surrounding water-filled environs are a mecca for fishing enthusiasts as well as for wealthy seasonal residents seeking refuge from their big-city lives. Therefore, great opportunity always exists for robberies, fraud and assorted mayhem to be sorted out by Doc Osborne and his girlfriend, Chief of Police Lew Ferris.
The book starts out in a very promising manner. First Doc finds a skeleton wrapped in an old rug tucked away in the basement of an antique store. The body had been dismembered before being rolled up, and the skull, complete with gold fillings that Doc recognizes, rolls right over to him. Concurrent with the discovery of the skeleton, Houston provides us with a very good idea of who’s going to die next. She even provides a better than usual clue to the identity of the future killer.
And then the shorter-than-her-normal novel begins to fall apart. First, Houston creates a demanding subplot for every character. For instance, Lew has refused to ask Doc to her high school reunion, choosing instead to meet with her old high school boyfriend who is now a divorced millionaire. So Doc has that angst to deal with for most of the book. Then Erin, Doc’s daughter, is working two Legal Aid cases, one of which involves the antique store where the skeleton is found while the other involves finance company fraud allegedly perpetrated by the person we figure is slated to die next.
Add to all this a problem where Mason, Doc’s granddaughter, is being bullied by an older boy, a story which dominates the entry for at least half the book. Ray’s “adopted son,” Nick, has a scenario going, as does the wife of the finance company CEO. Throw in multiple scenes tracing the family situation of the person we are clued into as the next killer and there is not a lot of space in this novel for actually investigating any of the crimes.
The focus on bullying is the next problem with the book. Not that the societal issue of bullying isn’t important, but we actually find ourselves reading a primer on how both parents and the victimized child can deal with the issue psychologically, physically and legally. The advice Houston presents on the topic is excellent, but it uses up so many pages. And it only relates to the mystery portion of the story because Mason is rescued at one point by, coincidentally, the wife of the finance company CEO, who is, coincidentally, moving in just down the street.
The final downturn to the story is Houston’s refusal to believe that “the devil is in the details.” Book after book, she seems to have an insatiable and driving need to bend the fabric of time and space in a setting that is neither paranormal nor sci-fi in genre.
Ten books ago, at the start of the series, Doc had already been retired for over two years. Since then, Nick has finished his last two years of high school and a year of college. Erin has started and finished law school, attending only part time for several years, has passed the bar and has started working for Legal Aid. The books have spanned several winters, several summers and several birthdays since the series started.
But somehow, since the last book, Ray Pradt and Cody, Doc’s grandson, have lost at least two years on their ages. And Doc is back to being retired for barely two years, which doesn’t account for the death of his wife or his time in alcohol rehab, all of which happened before the start of the first book but are referenced in this text. I swear, sometimes a Houston book is worse than a trip in Dr. Who’s Tardis!
Overall, this “cozy” is really more dull and boring than cozy. The second murder and its aftereffects are different from any that Houston has created before. However, the majority of its solution just drops into Doc’s and Lew’s laps. All they have to do, essentially, is pick up the body parts and file a report.
Yes, there is an action scene or two with gunplay and a speedboat attack, but, for the most part, this book is just an essay on the effects of bullying. One bully is just learning the skill and the second is a sociopath with many years of successful manipulation under his belt. And the third is a full-fledged psychopath, honed in his craft by one parent who was physically and psychologically abusive and by the other parent who tacitly allowed it to happen.
Essentially, Houston tries to put too much into too few pages. The result is a book that jumps all over the place and, thus, never does justice to any of the myriad plot lines. Too bad, because Houston has her characterizations fully fleshed out and she has created people who feel like friends. And for that reason only do I continue to read her books.
Cover Art From Goodreads