Book Reviews

Book Review: Dead News by M.K. Coker

This is the fifth book in a series by author M.K. Coker that follows rural sheriff Karen Mahaffey in Eda County, South Dakota. The run-up to Dead News has been the next sheriff election, which seems to be going in Karen’s favor. Her family has a long history in law enforcement in Eda County and she’s well-liked. However, events that take place in Dead News make her election less certain.

Initially, some blood splattered on one of the wind turbines near her home in South Dakota seems to be a prank. Karen thinks it is just some kids but has the blood tested. However, the lone challenger to her in the election seeks to make more out of it. Is he correct? At first, she doesn’t think so, but then Alyson Linderman is found murdered on the day the new electronics recycling center is due to open. Alyson was the director of the center and the daughter of a prominent media mogul in the eastern part of the state. Her father is frustrated by the lack of progress with the investigation and takes it out on Karen.

I felt that Dead News was an excellent mystery as well as a good depiction of small-town politics. Everyone is ready to jump on the bandwagon to go against Karen with little regard for how she has taken care of the county and its people up until now. There’s a lot of blame being tossed around, but few are offering solutions, the biggest of which is a lack of money. Karen has hired her uncle, Marek Okerlund, as a part-time detective. He has big-city experience from Albuquerque, where he lived with his family before his wife was killed by a drunk driver. Karen is able to tap him as a resource frequently, but the fact that he’s not a full-time police officer also hurts when dealing with investigations. In this case, having him on full-time might have led to the earlier discovery of the killer.

There are plenty of clues as to what’s going on throughout Dead News but it really doesn’t become evident what’s taking place until the very end. It’s a good mystery that seems to be a conflict between the old ways of doing things and new ways as well as between locals and outsiders. I knew who I thought was behind it – it seemed to be the obvious deduction – but the clues were there and yet overlooked. Coker is excellent at weaving a mystery that is obvious and yet, not so much.

I’ve never been to the Dakotas, and the bleak descriptions of the area don’t make me want to go. It’s a desolate place that has tried to be so many things over the decades and centuries. Between the new recycling center and the wind turbines, it would seem it is trying to recreate itself once again. Even as Karen tries to solve the case and win the election, it feels like her heart isn’t quite in fighting for her job this time. She is intent on solving the crime, and lets the other chips fall where they may. This might not be the best approach with a big-city publisher who seems to be out for blood when it comes to his daughter’s death.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this series, and this is no exception. The writing is excellent. The pacing is great and the setting feels so real, even to someone whose never been to that part of the country. The characters are human, all-around. The “good guys” make bad decisions even as the reader is rooting for them, and the “bad guys” have deeper motives than they will reveal. There are no flat characters here. I highly recommend picking up the series. I think you could read this one without having read the previous ones, but the characters resonate better of you know their backgrounds up until this point.

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