Reviewer Steve Moore: Steve is a full-time writer and ex-scientist. Besides his many technical publications, he has written six sci-fi thrillers (one a novel for young adults), many short stories, and frequent comments on writing and the digital revolution in publishing. His interests also include physics, mathematics, genetics, robotics, forensics, and scientific ethics. Follow Here for his WEBSITE.
Publisher: Amazon Digital
This mystery novel makes the series set in the Catskills around Hemlock Lake a trilogy. 75% is excellent mystery and suspense, but not as tightly focused as #2 (Through a Yellow Wood) or as fresh as #1 (Hemlock Lake). It is another narrative jewel, though. I love the setting and characters and Ms. Rose’s probing of good, evil, and all the gray area in between. She does this as well as or better than, say, David Baldacci in One Summer or Wish You Well, two other books that show valid mystery and suspense stories can occur in rural America.
The mystery surrounds several cold cases that Dan Stone’s old boss, Sheriff North, assigns to him. Although Dan and wife Camille are busy with a new baby, riding herd on teenager Julie, and counseling her brother Justin, the wife knows Dan needs a distraction and is happy when the sheriff deputizes him. Although Dan keeps his investigations under wraps for the most part, two cases he solves early on add to his notoriety in the rural community, but the feud between the judgmental head of a traveling revival show and that community’s preacher presents a major problem. The author ties all these threads together in a suspenseful climax.
There’s plenty of pithy and beautiful descriptive prose sprinkled throughout the book. Dan Stone, in reference to the first two novels, says at one point, “Events of the past two years made me believe in forces…that I couldn’t put a name to. Like the mountains around Hemlock Lake, they just were.” All the narrative is his first-person account as he winds his way among his fellows who are affected by these forces. We discover the unfolding mystery with him. The story is about how good, ordinary people have to confront the evil that can exist among them. “Evil as familiar as the sunrise.”
There’s some coming-of-age prose that’s also reminiscent of Baldacci’s books. Julie and Justin, two siblings orphaned in #2, assume more important roles here, although Julie seems a bit too innocent compared to today’s rural youth, who seem more connected to pop culture. Other Hemlock Lake characters have different lives in this third novel too—it’s been fun watching them evolve. Old sniper Jefferson is now married but remains an anchor for Stone. Gruff Sheriff North’s character becomes more appealing too. The Hemlock community assumes a more important role while the rural countryside retains its mysterious character.
After all that praise, I have to defend that 75% figure I opened with. The first 25% of this book has little to do with the cold cases Stone is working on. It’s about a snow storm and the birth of Dan and Camille’s first child. While many will see this as providing more insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the two protagonists and their local support group, I would have preferred to get on with the mystery. This paradigm shift in the couple’s lives would have been better handled via short flashbacks—or even a separate novella. I found that 25% a distraction, albeit a minor one, because I was continuously looking for a connection to the rest of the story. The rock outcropping of the title that plays an important role in providing some magical realism along with a bit of creepiness isn’t introduced until Chapter 15.
When a trilogy is completed, it’s always good to analyze the series as a whole. This one deserves many accolades. #3 is an interesting, well-written addition. I won’t say it brings closure—there’s always room for another story involving these interesting characters. The author’s prose is exciting and profound as she skillfully goes about her storytelling. I recommend the trilogy in its entirety. Like all good series, each book can stand alone, but the reader will enjoy the books more by reading them in order. I’ve done that, and my life has been enriched by doing so. Either way, you can’t go wrong.