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Two Mysteries Set in the Wilderness

The first mystery with a wilderness theme I’d like to review today is “Deep North” by Barry Knister.  This is the second in Knister’s “A Brenda Contay Novel of Suspense” series.  Contay is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who goes on a week-long fishing trip to Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota with an attorney friend, Marion Ross, and two of Marion’s friends from the Milwaukee area, Heather and Tina.  Tina is confined to a wheelchair with MS.  Rather than roughing-it, the group will be renting a houseboat.  On their wat to the northwoods resort where they are to pick up the houseboat they meet an attractive part-time resident of the lake area, Charlie Schmidt and he and Brenda seem to hit it off after Charlie stops to fix a flat tire for the women.  Charlie has during that same week a couple of guests ostensibly in to fish.  Charlie does not know these men well,  and they turn out to be deadly trouble.

Knister dives deep behind the psyche and motivations of each character. The villains are not just one-dimensional characters.  They have motivations we can understand, even if we don’t accept their rationales for doing evil things. We also learn a lot about the lives of the middle-aged women who are unsuspecting victims and who must do some terrible things in order to save themselves.  Middle-aged women readers will especially relate to this foursome of strong women.

Deep North” is fast-paced and absorbing.

There are similarities between “Deep North” and Warren C. Easley’s “Dead Float.”  Both murder mysteries take place in a wilderness area on a fishing trip.  “Deep North” is set in Northern Minnesota while “Dead Float“takes place along the Deschutes River in Oregon’s trout fishing region.  “Dead Float” is the second in Easley’s Cal Claxton Mystery series.
Claxton is an LA prosecuting attorney who decides to leave the high profile life in LA for the serenity of a small town practice in rural Oregon.  He agrees to help a friend who has a fishing guide business, Philip Lone Deer, lead a group of business executives from Portland on a trout fishing trip that is to double as a retreat with a management consultant. The trip goes terribly wrong.  A murder occurs on the fishing trip and Cal is set up to take the fall for it.  He spends most of the book talking with potential witnesses and finding clues to clear his name.  Almost as fast as he finds things that will help his case, the real killers plant things to further incriminate him so there is constant tension between characters and elements of the plot that drives the story forward with increasing intensity.  The story is told so descriptively that the reader almost feels like they are along for the ride with the protagonist, Cal Claxton.

Dead Float is one of the best mysteries of the year and will be enjoyed by a wide variety of readers.

 

 

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Double Fudge Browie Murder by Joanne Fluke

The Hannah Swensen Mystery series reminds me of the days growing up in Minnesota in and around the area described as the imaginary Lake Eden.  “Double Fudge Brownie Murder” was another walk down memory lane for me.

In this installment Hannah is confronted with the dilemma of being proposed to by three men including the handsome Ross Barton, a film producer Hannah had met in college.  There is at least as much romance in this book as murder mystery it and therefore it does not have quite the dramatic weight of most mysteries.  The fact that there are also recipies thrown in at the end of every chapter also makes this work (and this series) seem a little less substantial than most of the mysteries I read.

There is a murder in the midst of the romantic plot. Hannah finds a murder victim, a judge who has been assigned to try Hannah in a manslaughter case stemming from a freak accident Hannah and her bakery truck were involved in during a storm.  Hannah discovers the judge’s body in his chambers shortly after she is summoned to see the him about her case.  There are lots of potential killers to rule out and for the first time Hannah ends up crossing everyone off her suspect list.  The killer comes out of left field and very nearly gets Hannah as well.

The recipies alone are usually worth the read in the Hannah Swensen series.  In “Double Fudge Brownie Murder” there is not only a sinful brownie recipie, but also such unusual fare as baked doughnuts, hot pepper jam cookies, and a wierd spice cookie recipe with ketchup in it.

Light weight fare, but recommended for those who like food-related cosy mystery books.

Liz Nichols

 

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Cinnamon Roll Murder by Joanne Fluke

This is around the 15th in the Hannah Swensen Mystery with Recipes series for food and mystery lovers.  I feel a special affinity to Hannah Swensen and her family in the made up town of Eden Lake, Minnesota.  I grew up in the western suburbs of Minneapolis and can picture a lot of the terrain and lifestyle typical of the area.

In “Cinnamon Roll Murder” the indecision surrounding whether Hannah’s love life comes to a head and she realizes a little late that the dentist, Norman, is really the man she loves.  He gave up on Hannah ever being anything but a friend, meanwhile, and hooked up with the new dentist in his practice, Doctor Bev.  Hannah is certain that Bev is only using Norman for his income and the stability of a job in his office.  She wants to bring her daughter to Lake Eden and has told Norman that the girl is his child from a previous time when they were involved while both were in school in Seattle.  Hannah suspects that Bev is not bring truthful and she goes to work trying to dig up all the dirt on Bev.

The Cinnamon Roll Murder is named for a jazz band that is hired to play at the Eden Lake Inn and one of the members is murdered.  (There is also a yummy cinnamon roll recipe in the book that bakery owner, Hannah, makes.)  Hannah and her sister, Michelle, decide to help the sheriff’s office try to crack this case.  Hannah is more than a little suspicious that Bev might be tied up with this case also.

The Swensen mysteries are always entertaining and always a fast read.  You get to know and like Hannah, her sister, her mom, and her friends and come to think of them as friends that you visit every six months or so when a new book comes out.  These novels are  not great literature, but they are enjoyable.  They are not full of a lot of nuance and the plots are pretty predicatable.  Still, it is like coming back to familiar territory when I take up one of Fluke’s books.

Those who like cozy mysteries and food-related mysteries will find that Fluke’s series is one of the best of this genre.

The pre-pub literature indicates that “The Cinnamon Roll Murder” will be available in March 2012.  Joanne Fluke grew up in Minnesota and certainly knows the area and the people living in rural Minnesota.  Currently she lives in Southern California.

Liz Nichols

 

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