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by Patricia Skalka
University of Wisconsin Press, July 2022
230 pages
ISBN: 0299338703

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Seven years ago, I read and reviewed the second of the Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries, and then the series somehow fell off my radar and I now find myself reviewing the final book. I will need to fill in the gaps, even though DEATH CASTS A SHADOW is complete within itself and can easily be read as a standalone, because I had forgotten how good this series is.

Dave Cubiak is the sheriff of Door County, a peninsular outdoor playground in Wisconsin. He's been around the block a few times, and his age shows in the pace of the action and in his measured responses to the physical hardship of the job. There is a lot of action in this book, but seen through Cubiak's eyes, it is not at the frenetic pace that many mystery authors take us through. The book takes place during the usually quiet winter months, when the police chief is on vacation and the sheriff takes over responsibility for law enforcement in the county. An elderly widow dies of an apparent accident, an event that Cubiak thinks may not have been accidental at all. The woman had recently become involved in an Internet relationship with a past friend of her deceased husband, and Cubiak senses that there is more to the story. Shortly thereafter, a horrific explosion kills a man in a fishing hut, a man who has connections to the widow. Coincidence maybe, but Cubiak does not really believe in coincidences. And then there's the accountant who has been silently in love with the widow for decades who seems to keep popping up in the narrative, further connecting the dots between the deaths.

Skalka plays fair with us, leaving hints along the way, as Cubiak investigates both those involved in the modern day deaths and the hazy history of land grabs and family fortunes made and lost by the once and presently wealthy residents. There is no wildly unexpected twist in this plot, just good investigative work that uncovers the ties between the characters and events, finally reaching a satisfying conclusion. Throughout, Cubiak reveals himself as a thoughtful and engaged leader who struggles with the balance between his job and his family. His character shines through the pages, so that it is not necessary to have read any of the previous books to have a good sense of the man. Skalka has a knack for writing even the most minor characters in a way that gets to the core of who they are in just a few words.

Plot and characterization, both of which are quite strong in this book, aside, it is the weather and location which truly stand out. Skalka writes in such a powerful manner about the snow storms and biting cold during a Door County's winter, that I felt I needed to put a sweater on even in the heat of the summer as I read the book. She describes the frigid weather so convincingly that I not only could see it in my mind, but I could feel it in my bones. Likewise, her descriptions of the desolate locations, whether in the snow-covered backwoods or the wind-scoured frozen lake, transport the reader.

Although this book is the final in this series, I am hopeful that Skalka will find another vehicle for her beautiful writing.

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

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, August 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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