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by Kelley Armstrong
Minotaur, May 2016
416 pages
ISBN: 1250092140

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This is such an interesting premise. Way north in Canada, there is a town called Rockton hidden amongst the trees and surrounded by forest. While it originally started as a sort of commune, it is now a tightly controlled location that petitioners can pay to enter. The residents are nearly all transplants with some sort of horrible past, either ones they endured or ones they created. Money and skills are important, but there's a question in the minds of the long-term residents about whether the town is becoming a haven for murderers especially when several residents are killed and dismembered in the surrounding forest.

Casey Duncan is a cop from down south who killed a man and got away with it. Her friend, Diana, has relied heavily on Casey to help her get through an abusive relationship. When Diana's ex shows up back in town, Diana suggests to Casey that they both move to Rockton to escape their pasts. Casey has always been Diana's rock, so she agrees to help in this rather extreme way. Upon arrival, Diana's inner wild child emerges while Casey gets to work attempting to solve the murders, even as they continue to take place. In the process, she falls in love both with the town and with one of its residents.

The forest, where all of the deaths take place, is one very creepy forest. It is filled with dangerous animals, both human and non-human. The original commune members are out there somewhere, and so are bands of feral mountain men. The townspeople have a very healthy fear of straying too far into the forest, a fear that is reinforced by an occasional attack and by the lore that the town sheriff frequently repeats. The underlying politics of the town make the sheriff's job difficult, and having Casey to help with the investigations is key to solving the murders.

Armstrong's characters all have a backstory, something the premise makes plausible, and those backstories add an element of menace to the plot. There is the public, Rockton side to each character, and then there is a hidden "southern" side. Casey must pull aside the threads of the cloak each character wears to determine his or her true nature as she attempts to find the person capable of the grisly murders. This includes even her love interest. Each of the characters is complex enough for the reader to find something sympathetic, and this is especially true of both Casey and the sheriff.

The events that take place in the wilderness are frightening, with Armstrong bringing the landscape to life. At the same time, there are spots in the book where the Yukon landscape speaks deeply to Casey, and the reader feels her love of the remote northern location. Armstrong is a prolific writer, with all of her other series falling more into the fantasy and horror realm than this first in a new mystery series. She brings an atmospheric scariness to the world into which Casey is thrust, but she does not rely upon the supernatural to do it. I am definitely looking forward to seeing where the next Casey Duncan book takes us.

Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, August 2016

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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