Reviewer Wally Wood: Wally is an editor and writer, has published three novels, Getting Oriented:A Novel about Japan, The Girl in the Photo an Death in a Family Business. He obtained his MA in creative writing in 2002 from the City University of New York and has worked with a number of authors as a ghostwriter and collaborator.
With an extensive background in a variety of business subjects, his credits include twenty-one nonfiction books. He spent twenty-five years as a trade magazine reporter and editor and has been a volunteer writing and business teacher in state and federal prisons for more than twenty years. He has finished his fourth novel and has translated a collection of Japanese short stories into English.
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Burning Ridge is Margaret Mizushima's fourth Timber Creek K-9 mystery and the first I've read. It's a police procedural with an interesting cop—Sheriff's Deputy Mattie Cobb and her German shepherd K-9 partner Robo who work out of small Colorado town. Mattie is romantically involved with the widowed local veterinarian Cole Walker, and the narrative shifts from Mattie to Cole and back, sometimes in the same chapter.
The action commences when Cole takes his two daughters riding into the mountains to show them some bighorn mountain sheep before he and a crew from Colorado Parks and Wildlife relocate them to another area. Redstone Ridge is high enough and remote enough it can be reached only on horseback. The outing turns grim when the family's Doberman pinscher who has been ranging off the trail returns with a charred boot that contains a foot and leg bone.
When Mattie and Robo, Cole, and Sheriff McCoy and his team return to the area, Robo sniffs out a shallow grave in which a body has been partially cremated. We learn almost immediately that Mattie has a close personal connection to the dead man. The legal team also discovers three similar graves, two adults and a child—but these are thirty years old. What's the connection? Is there a connection?
According to the book's publicist, "Mizushima lives in Colorado where she assists her husband with their veterinary practice and Angus cattle herd." In other words, she's writing from the inside. She knows the landscape, she knows how to treat of animals, and has picked up enough about police dog handling to write convincingly about it. For example:
Mattie opened her pack, removed Robo's collapsible bowl, and filled it with water from her own drinking supply. He'd drunk freely from streams on the way up, but she wanted him to moisten his mucus membranes now to enhance his scenting ability, Besides, it was a valuable part of their routine.
After he lapped at the liquid, she took off his collar and put on his tracking harness, his signal that it was time to search. Robo assumed his all-business face, adopting a serious attitude for the first time on this outing instead of acting like he was along for a picnic.
"Robo, heel." Taking the ice chest [containing the charred boot and leg] with her, she led him a short distance from the rest of the group and began to tousle his fir and pat his sides. She used the high-pitched chatter meant to rev up his prey drive. "Robo, are you ready to work? Are you? Let's find something . . . ."
Timber Creek, Colorado, is a small town. Mattie has lived there all her life. Everyone knows everyone not by six degrees of separation but by two. How much mystery can there be?
Burning Ridge plausibly implies there's a lot. Rough men pass through town on their way elsewhere. Strangers move into town to make a new start. Men abuse women. Parents mistreat children. There's enough work to occupy the Sheriff, his deputies, the detective (and Mattie's friend) Stella LoSasso, the Parks and Wildlife manager, and state resources in Denver.
All of which is to say that Burning Ridge is engaging (and rewarding) because Mattie and Cole are not isolates; they are embedded in a recognizable social fabric and what they do—or don't do—seems reasonable based on who they are and where they are. Burning Ridge is interesting enough that I'm going to look up Mizushima's first in the series, Killing Trail, and will report back. Stay tuned.