Reviewer Valerie Porter: Valerie is a freelance magazine writer and co-author of 5 books. She has also been a freelance book reviewer for a weekly Los Angeles newspaper and has written her own book blog.
She is an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction.
AUTHOR: Patricia Skalka
PUBLISHER: Terrace Books
Charming Door County, Wisconsin – a real location – seems like the perfect backdrop for a lighthearted cozy mystery – a peaceful and quaint oasis, tiny waterfront villages, rustic parks, charming shops and restaurants. Death Stalks Door County even seems like a potential cozy title. But the book is anything but cozy, which turns out to be a very good thing.
The book opens just before the Fourth of July, as Door County is poised to open its annual tourist season. There will be a festival, special parades and events, and the influx of campers and visitors is just ready to swarm the area. It sounds like a great summer is ahead for the idyllic peninsula. But suddenly, in a location where murder is practically unheard of, there are six suspicious deaths within a week. This threatens to severely damage the tourist season, so at first, each death is labeled an accident or suicide, to keep tourists unaware of the dangerous situation that is brewing.
Enter former Chicago police officer Dave Cubiak, whose own life took a tragic turn when his wife and daughter were killed in an auto accident. Torn up with grief and guilt, he’s fled Chicago for a new job as a Door County park ranger. He wants no part of the locals – he just wants to do his job and drink away his pain. But old homicide detective skills remain inside of him, and he’s drawn into solving the mysterious deaths. In the end, it more or less becomes his salvation. Most of the local residents are included on his list of suspects – the sheriff, park supervisor, coroner, and a prominent civic leader, among many others.
Despite the rapid-fire series of crimes, Death Stalks Door County begins at a rather slow and hard-to-follow pace. It may be due to the need to establish quite a large cast of characters, or perhaps first-time novelist (but longtime successful writer) Patricia Skalka was just finding her footing. About one-third of the way in, though, when Cubiak actually begins his investigation in earnest, the book takes flight. It’s fascinating from that point on, and the ending is something no one will see coming. There’s even a hint of a budding romance, and readers will be happy to know that this book is subtitled “A Dave Cubiak Mystery,” thankfully hinting at more to come. Welcome to the mystery scene, Patricia Skalka!