Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Lots of people find fishing to be a relaxing and truly enjoyable pastime. You might even say there’s a ‘fishing culture.’ There’s a billion-dollar industry built up around fishing, and plenty of towns rely on it for at least part of their income. For an ‘inside look’ at the fishing culture and the small towns that rely on it, let’s turn today’s spotlight on Victoria Houston’s Dead Angler, the first of her Loon Lake Fishing Mysteries.
Retired dentist Paul Osborne has just gotten his life back together after the sudden death of his wife, Mary Lee. One of the things that he hasn’t done since she died is fish. But when he re-discovers his fishing equipment during a cleaning project, he’s persuaded to give it a try again. One night, he’s fishing with his fly fishing coach Llewellyn ‘Lew’ Ferris, who is also the local sheriff. While they’re on the Prairie River, Osborne finds the body of a woman in the water.
He knows the victim, too. As the town’s dentist, he’s had most of its residents as patients, and this woman is no exception. She is Meredith Marshall, who ,among other things, is a friend of his daughter, Mallory. She grew up in Loon Lake, but has since moved away. Osborne remembers that she had some gold fillings in her mouth, but they’re missing now. And that’s his first clue that this death was likely not natural. Ferris’ regular deputy is away at the moment, and she sees that Osborne has some medical expertise that could be useful, so she makes him her temporary deputy, and the two begin to work on the case.
In order to find out how and by whom Meredith was killed, Ferris and Osborne look into both her relationships and her movements in the last few weeks. Because she’s from Loon Lake, Osborne knows something about her family history. He knows less about her life since she moved away, but the two detectives gradually develop a portrait of her. And that brings up more than one suspect. For one thing, there’s her ex-husband, Ben. She’d inherited quite a lot of money, and it’s not in Ben’s interest for their divorce to become final. And there’s Clint Chesnais, who lives on the Lac Vieux Desert Native American Reservation. He was doing some building and landscaping work for Meredith and her sister Alicia Roderick, who were going to open a restaurant together. There’s word, too, that he and Meredith were more than business acquaintances. There’s also the matter of Meredith and Alicia’s restaurant plan. That brings up all sorts of possible financial motives.
In the meantime, Osborne has another issue to face. His daughter Mallory, from whom he’s somewhat estranged, has called to tell him that she’s coming for a visit, ‘though she won’t say why. He’s been concerned for her, and isn’t sure how to feel about seeing her again.
Gradually, Ferris and Osborne put together the pieces of the puzzle. In the end, they find out the truth behind Meredith’s death, and another death that occurs. They also uncover some underhanded things that have been going on in town.
This is fishing-themed mystery, so there is plenty of information about sport and hobby fishing. Those who love to fish tend to take it very seriously, and Houston makes that clear. Readers also get an ‘inside look’ at the fishing culture, and the sort of small town that grows up around it.
Loon Lake is a small town, so another element in this novel is the American small-town atmosphere. Everyone knows everyone, and people tend to gather at the local McDonald’s for breakfast, and the local bars later in the day. There are community events and social life revolves around them. The pace of life is slower than it often is in suburban and urban areas, and there’s a lot of interest in outdoor hobbies such as hiking, boating and so on. There’s also an interesting divide between the year-round residents of Loon Lake, and visitors who take summer cottages or spend weekends at one of the area’s hotels. Because everyone knows everyone, people have a history together, and that plays its part in this story.
The story is told in third person, from Osborne’s point of view, so we learn about his character. He’s certainly had some sorrow in his life, but he doesn’t wallow. He’s learning to take life as it comes, as the saying goes. He’s the proud father of two grown daughters, Erin and Mallory. His family life is not idyllic; he’s got a complicated relationship with Mallory, and we learn that his relationship with Mary Lee was far from perfect. But he works to be a good father and grandfather, and he is close to Erin. The sisters are close, too, which makes their father very happy.
A note is in order here about Osborne’s relationship with Ferris. He admits to himself that he likes her very much. But readers who do not like romance in their novels will be pleased to know that this duo does not become a couple. They work well together, and they very much like each other. But it’s not ‘that kind’ of relationship.
For her part, Ferris is the ‘outdoors’ type. She’s a better fly fisher than Osborne is, and she’s not at all afraid to take on a challenge. She’s smart and good at her job, but she’s not perfect. She doesn’t try to play ‘superhero.’
There are other characters, too, who play roles in this story. One of them is Osborne’s friend Ray Pradt. He’s a fishing/hunting guide, and has other irons in the fire, too, as the saying goes. He’s certainly not conventional. You can’t really describe anyone who wears a hat shaped like a stuffed fish as ‘conventional.’ Rather, he lives life on his own terms. He can be annoying, but he’s loyal, knows everyone for miles around, and has some unexpected skills that allow him to be very helpful to Osborne.
The story isn’t what you’d call gritty. But it’s not really light, either. There’s real sadness in the novel, and it’s not the sort of story that ends with the culprit being led away in handcuffs. People’s lives are not magically made all right again. Even Osborne’s personal life doesn’t have one of those ‘sitcom moments’ where things are fine at the end. But there is a sense of hope, and there’s a definite sense that life will go on, and even be good again.
Dead Angler is a look at life in a small Wisconsin community where fishing rules, everyone knows everyone, and nature is a big part of life. It features a pair of sleuths who are very much a part of that community, and a mystery that shows that all communities have their sorrows and tragedies. But what’s your view? Have you read Dead Angler? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday, 4 July/Tuesday, 5 July – The Constable’s Tale – Donald Smith
Monday, 11 July/Tuesday, 12 July – Resurrection Bay – Emma Viskic
Monday, 18 July/Tuesday, 19 July – Unleashed – David Rosenfelt