In The Spotlight: Victoria Houston’s Dead Angler

SpotlightHello, All,

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


Filed under Dead Angler, Victoria Houston

22 responses to “In The Spotlight: Victoria Houston’s Dead Angler

  1. Keishon

    I remember buying a couple of her books years ago. I usually don’t read very many cozies but her books looked interesting. Hope to one day give one a try. With so many books, I plead guilty to being distracted. I remember going fishing when I was a kid staying with my grandparents during the summer months. Talk about getting up early in the morning before the sun even comes up….not for me. I may give it another try 🙂 There’s something really fun and educational about books that have themes like this. Usually this is a hobby the author knows well or have an interest in (guessing). Thanks, Margot, for doing a spotlight on her work.

    • I agree with you, Keishon. It is really interesting to get a perspective on a hobby/craft/profession/etc. that you don’t know very well. This series isn’t at all ‘frothy,’ the way some cosy series are. There are some real issues treated here, and some down-to-earth-sadness and so on. But it is lighter in the sense that the violence isn’t gruesome or protracted. And the language, while not pristine, is at least restrained.

      As to fishing? I’ve done a bit of it, myself, ‘though it was never a passion. For people who love it, though, it’s really an important part of their lives. And yes, it involves keeping strange hours…

  2. Was Dead Angler made into a movie, do you know? It sounds so familiar, as if I either read the book or watched the film. For some reason I’m thinking it was a made-for-TV movie.

    • I don’t think it was made into a TV adaptation, Sue. And as far as I know, it wasn’t made into a film, either (but someone, please correct me if I’m wrong). Perhaps there was another, similar story that was?

  3. Margot, retired dentist Paul Osborne sounds like such an unlikely “sleuth” and the setting around fishing is appealing too, as is the title of this book. Detective work is serious but a good diversion from brooding over sorrows and drawbacks in one’s life. It makes Osborne a very believable and realistic character, I think.

    • I think it does, too, Prashant. He is believable, in my opinion. Of course, no book or sleuth is for everyone. But Osborne does present a realistic portrayal of someone who’s had deep sorrow in his life, and is trying to do the best he can.

  4. I must admit I’ve never seen the attraction of fishing. I’m quite happy to sit and look at a river without having to deal with all that pesky equipment… 😉 However, the book sounds good – I like the ones that sit in the middle, not too dark and not too light.

    • I do, too, FictionFan. And as for the fishing aspect of it, there is certainly discussion of fishing techniques, bait, lures and the rest of it. But (and this is strictly my opinion, so your mileage may vary), I didn’t feel it dragged the book down, really. If you do cast your line in, I hope you’ll enjoy it. 😉

  5. I giggled at the part about the dentist knowing that the woman couldn’t have died naturally because she had none of her gold fillings. My first thought was, “Who dies naturally in a lake?” 🙂

    This sounds like another goody mystery, and I like the way you give readers a heads up about what they may expect. My book club is reading Terror in Taffeta in July thanks to your review! ❤

    • Thanks so much for the kind words, GtL. I do try to be as objective as a fallible human can be when I do these analyses. After all, everyone’s different.

      You have a good point about people not generally dying naturally in a lake. 🙂 It’s interesting Houston includes that comment, too, actually. Osborne’s really pointing out that those fillings were probably removed after death. If so, and if her body’s in the lake, she didn’t, say, suddenly have a heart attack and fall in or some such thing.

      I really hope you and your club will enjoy Terror in Taffeta, and I hope you’ll let me know how it went!

  6. Fishing has no real interest for me, but still this sounds like a good book. I like his being sworn in as a deputy – that was such a feature of the old westerns wasn’t it? Glad to see it’s till going on…

    • You know, I hadn’t thought about it, Moira, but you’re right. That ‘sworn in as deputy’ feature really is a fixture in classic Westerns and some modern ones too). And this novel shows that it still happens. I will admit, the fishing part is important in the novel, but you may find the mystery itself interesting. If you try the story, I hope you’ll like it.

  7. I’ve never fished, so that part of the book wouldn’t appeal, but overall it sounds interesting. Natural death in a lake? Very cold water might do it.

    • That’s certainly a possibility, Richard. Fortunately, Osborne can tell fairly quickly that the victim’s death is questionable, even though he’s not a medical examiner. In my opinion (and it’s just my opinion, mind), Houston handles that aspect effectively.

  8. Col

    Another new-to-me author, but a probably pass. Never been fishing myself, though I’ve enjoyed a few mysteries with angling as a theme/plot point. Titles escape me!

    • There’s no possible way to make time to read everything you really, really want to read, Col, let alone things you’re only so-so about reading. Fishing and the fishing theme are not for everyone.

  9. tracybham

    This sounds very good, Margot. A lot of books in the series. Do you know if they need to be read in order (although I probably would at least try to start with the first one).

    • I think the series really is best understood in order, Tracy. It’s not so much the mystery plots themselves; Houston is good at makiing those self-contained. But there are story arcs that are best followed if you read the novels in order.

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