Book Reviews

Book Review: Dead Hot by M.K. Coker – We’re Not In South Dakota Anymore

I’ve enjoyed all of the books in this series by author M.K. Coker about Sheriff Karen Mehaffey and the town of Reunion, South Dakota. However, I found this sixth book in the Dakota Mysteries series to be the weakest so far. Perhaps that’s because it takes place outside of Reunion, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

After having lost her reelection bid for Eda County Sheriff, Karen Mehaffey travels with her uncle, Detective Marek Okerlund, to Albuquerque. Why there? That was where Marek was a detective on the force prior to his return to his hometown. Neither of them want to work for the newly-elected sheriff, Bob “Baby” Bunting, so they are exploring other employment options. As they are about to leave the motel they are calling home for the week, a man appears on their doorstep. He saw Karen’s jacket from Eda County and he knows her father. He delivers a cryptic message, then keels over. He’s deceased, and the cause is radiation poisoning.

What follows is a series of twists and turns as Karen and Marek are drawn in to the investigation with the Albuquerque Police Department and, eventually, the FBI. The man worked as a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It would seem a no-brainer that he was poisoned there, except all of the nuclear material has been moved to other places. There are many suspects, but few answers.

The different setting is good in a way as the native culture of New Mexico takes front and center. There’s a lot of new information to digest, but it’s very interesting. Marek’s daughter, Becca, has Tewa in her from her mother’s side of the family which makes her welcome in their culture. This enables them to visit at a time when other outsiders would not be allowed. It also makes for a fascinating read.

Although I enjoyed the characters here, I’m glad Karen doesn’t take a job in Albuquerque. It just seemed implausible that she and Marek would be included in the investigation when neither of them are part of that police force. Granted, Marek was a homicide detective there and his old partner is heading up the investigation for the Albuquerque Police Department, but it still feels like a stretch for them after their initial involvement at the motel. Even the link to Karen’s father is dismissed rather quickly and unremarkable. So why are they there?

It feels even more strained in that Becca regresses after returning to where her mother and unborn baby brother were killed, yet Marek just leaves her with a friend and goes off on the investigation with Karen. Becca is retrieved when it’s convenient, such as when they visit the Tewa, but otherwise, it seems almost neglectful for Marek to leave her when she’s obviously suffering. Karen’s talents as a law enforcement officer are displayed. Between her and Marek, they make a good team when investigating. The way they handle people is better than most of the other investigators, so perhaps that’s why they are being kept around. Doesn’t say much about the local law enforcement, though.

I did have the perpetrator of the crime pegged early on, but I second-guessed myself many times. There are many possibilities among those who are at Los Alamos. However, the end of the mystery is not the end of the book, and that is important for why Marek and Karen return to South Dakota.

Dead Hot is not the best book in the series. I would say it’s the weakest so far. The science also tends to weigh it down and some of it was hard to grasp. Despite the descriptions, I still have no idea what a Kiva is, either. I found it harder to follow than the South Dakota locations, even though I’ve never been there either. If you’re reading the series, I wouldn’t skip it because it leads into the next book very well, but it’s not the book to gain a real appreciation of the series.

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