Author: Margaret Mizushima
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
ISBN: 978-1-62593-381-0

Killing Trail is Margaret Mizushima's first Timber Creek K-9 mystery. I wanted to read it because I enjoyed the fourth in the series, Burning Ridge. In Killing Trail we are introduced to Deputy Mattie Cobb who has just completed twelve weeks of training with Robo, the county's new police service dog. We meet Cole Walker, Timber Creek's only veterinarian, whose wife has left him and their two daughters. We meet the town's sheriff, Abraham McCoy, and another deputy, Brody, who resents Mattie because she beat him in the competition to become the town's K-9 officer. We also meet Detective Stella LoSasso who is called in from the county seat to take charge of the investigation of the crime and who, by book four, is living in Timber Creek.

Asked about her writing, Mizushima said in an interview, "Initially, I wrote mainstream, and then historical romance. I placed in a few contests but didn't get published. Switching to mystery came from my love of crime documentaries and crime fiction, as well as a little push from a friend."

In the same interview, she advises aspiring or beginning writers "to attend writing conferences where you will learn about writing craft and the publishing business. I met both my agent and editor at writing conferences; that personal introduction will get you much further than a query letter or a slush pile submission."

I suspect she also learned that a mystery series is more likely to be published than a single book, that it is best to have a spunky detective with an original or unusual partner, that a mystery needs complexity but not too much, and that it doesn't hurt to have the heroine rush into danger in the last fifth of the book. 

Killing Trail begins when a forest ranger finds fresh blood on the porch of an empty cabin in the national forest outside of town . . . and Robo sniffs out the body the blood came from buried in the wilderness.

Although Mizushima is writing from the inside—she grew up on a cattle ranch in the Colorado high country and Timber Creek is a composite of several small Colorado towns—and although it took her three years to write Killing Trail, she was still finding her way in this book. The mystery is not very mysterious (experienced readers will have identified the villain by the middle) and Robo has more personality than Mattie.

Mizushima has given Mattie troubled childhood: an abused mother who disappeared when Mattie and her (now estranged) brother were small, an imprisoned father who was killed in prison, a foster home with a loving, if overworked, Hispanic woman. Mattie's been a deputy for seven years (she seems to be about thirty years old), but she seems to have no life beyond police work. Cole Walker is a potential love interest, one that is still developing by book four.

Nevertheless, Killing Trail is a creditable first effort. Robo is not a prop but an active and important character in the book. Cole's veterinary skill has consequences. And the book is good enough to justify three more installments.