In a dying South Dakota town, Adam Van Eck returns to care for his ailing mother. Once a promising actor, his Broadway dreams have faded over the years. Four days after he returns, his mother is found dead in her garden, and Adam is folding a shotgun.
Sheriff Karen Mehaffey brings in part-time detective, Marek Okerlund. What seems like a cut-and-dried murder case really isn’t. There’s a lot more going on with the retired teacher than meets the eye. Initially, they think Adam might have killed her as an alternative to watching her descend further into dementia, either as a mercy killing or because he didn’t want to have to care for her. However, the facts don’t match up to this theory and the two must find out who would want to kill the retired beloved teacher. At the same time, the town is facing a threat from a flood. Karen is racing around with the mystery and trying to monitor the rising waters.
Continuing from the characters set up in Dead White, M.K. Coker gives us a multi-dimensional story about families in transition. People grow and move away but there are always things that bring them back home, whether it’s an ill parent or returning to somewhere that feels safe. Karen and Adam are similar in that respect, having moved away for promising careers only to find themselves back in their hometowns at this stage of life. Not knowing what else to do, Marek returned to the place he grew up in and is still struggling to find his place in the world after losing his wife and unborn son. He’s also trying to figure out what’s best for his daughter, Becca. All of that is complicated when his former mother-in-law drops in for an unannounced visit. She abandoned her daughter at a young age and Marek treats her very frostily when she tries to inject herself into their lives. Who can blame him? However, she has her own reasons for doing this.
The mystery is good and kept me guessing. I really didn’t figure it out until the very end, about the same time Karen puts it all together. The town is an interesting setting with many people familiar to those who live in small, rural towns. It seems like there are many possible suspects, from the anti-social neighbors to people at the school who might have had secrets they didn’t want divulged.
There is also growth here for the characters. Karen grows in her resolve about her life circumstances. Marek and his half-brother Arne (Karen’s father) are still at odds, but there’s a growing sense of family there due to Becca. All of this propels the characters forward as the murder investigation is going on. It has a good feel, rather than the investigation consuming their lives, they have to find the balance in dealing with what life is throwing at them while the investigation proceeds.
I’ve enjoyed the first two books in this series quite a bit. They are entertaining and the characters feel very real. I’d give this 4 stars.
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