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by Margaret Mizushima
Crooked Lane Books, November 2019
282 pages
ISBN: 1643851357

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Robo, Mattie Cobb's K-9 partner, is no longer in training in this fifth Timber Creek K-9 mystery set in the mountains of Colorado. Instead, Mattie and her human team are able to rely upon him completely. With different commands, he is able to find human bodies, locate hidden drugs even in minute quantities, and track both humans and animals through rough terrain. While I miss the details of training from the earlier books in the series, the relationship between Mattie and Robo continues to play a large part in this book, bringing the work of a K-9 officer and her dog to life.

As with the other books in the series, this book can be read as a stand-alone; its plot is completely self-contained. However, relationships (particularly that of Mattie and the local veterinarian, Cole) have been developing over time so some personal details will be lost by jumping in mid-stream. Nonetheless, Mizushima does a terrific job of filling us in on the most important aspects of that development while keeping the trajectory of the book moving forward. Characterization is strong, although Cole can seem a little too good to be true at times. It's nice to run across a strong male character who is also kind and sensitive, however, and his good-hearted nature helps make Mattie's healing from her childhood possible. In spite of the murders investigated in the book, there is an overall tone of gentleness not usually found in outdoor adventure murder mysteries.

As the book opens, Mattie and Cole are called away from a community dance to investigate a car fire. When they get there, they find a murdered rancher and another man badly hurt. Throughout the investigation, which takes some unexpected turns including the introduction of a huge exotic cat, Robo leads Mattie and the team to crucial evidence that fills in the gaps in the information gathered through traditional detective work. In the end, this sad story of the fragility of isolated ranching life draws to a plausible close, making sense of seemingly contradictory evidence.

The shattering of the ranch family's way of life is echoed in a subplot involving Cole and his children, as well as in aspects of Mattie's childhood which come to light over the course of the book. While this is a suspenseful mystery, it is also a book about the ways in which events in a family's life can bring about its dissolution. The thoughtful and introspective aspects of the book do not detract from the fast pace, however, with Mizushima finding a delicate balance between the two.

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in rural Wyoming.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, August 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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