Author: Victoria Houston

Publisher: Tyrus Books

ISBN: 1440568413

ISBN-13- 9781440568411

Loon Lake’s police chief is an attractive, “sturdy” woman, according to her favorite companion, a retired dentist who assists in identifying bodies in northern Wisconsin. That concept alone should swell Victoria Houston’s audience with a bunch of us mature female Swedes who grew up on cakes and cookies in that region. But a short way into this book the reader discovers the Upper Midwest has changed. You can’t send the kids out into the woods alone to fish any more. Oh, the trout are there, all right, but so are packs of man-eating wolves and migrant gangs of two-legged baddies. The kids might never get to enjoy the cookies in their lunch buckets. Or anything at all.

It is a bit suspicious when two bodies are found within hours of one another in a hard-to-reach patch of the Nicolet National Forest. One is a banker with a snowmobile who disappeared months ago. The other is a missing student intern hired for the summer to survey the area for invasive plants. Both were shot in the head. Llewellyn Ferris and her motley crew of specialist helpers – the most colorful of whom is a great fisherman and tracker but with few social skills – are attempting to understand who in this wilderness might target two such diverse victims when the FBI show up on their turf. The feds think someone might be laundering money up in these parts.

I must confess I am drawn to the Loon Lake mysteries out of nostalgia; my home town is always mentioned, I’ve been in the Nicolet Forest, and my dad and grandfather were avid fishermen like Lew, Doc, and Ray (who wears an absurd hat with a stuffed trout on the brim). The information about fly fishing probably wins male readers to these mysteries. Once into DEAD LIL’ HUSTLER (named for a kind of tied fly), I found myself wishing Dad were alive so I could talk to him about tenkara, a Japanese style of casting for trout gently.

Gentle” is probably a good word to describe this author’s approach to storytelling, as violent crimes are compensated by good friendships and kind deeds. Loon Lake is a community. Each character has a family story, often a family tragedy. In this novel, Doc Osborne has a grandson, Cody, who is seriously ill, and we get to see grandpa as very human in his anguish and his attempts to make things better.

Houston’s writing is clear, the dialogue genuine, characters well-defined. If some minor ones seem typecast we can forgive Houston, as it is cathartic to see the rich snobs get thrown off their high horses and the struggling middle class win. She also satisfies our suspicions about bureaucracies and the limitations of the judicial system. Best of all, she allows us informed glimpses of a close-to-nature lifestyle many of us wish we had chosen -- or are considering for retirement.

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