This 10th installment of a series focuses on a sheriff with a new case rooted deep in a Michigan county’s history.
When the remote farmhouse that once belonged to his dead predecessor, Orville Hentzler, goes up in flames—its basement stockpile of guns and ammunition providing an explosive finale—Cedar County Sheriff Ray Elkins is tasked with discovering why. He knows that it’s arson, probably just some bored teenagers or a closet pyromaniac. Then Hentzler’s grave is vandalized. “When he was alive, people either loved him or they hated him,” remembers the cemetery’s groundskeeper. “He and his boys, you know, his deputies, they liked to crack heads....But he’s been gone awhile.” Could these incidents have anything to do with a hippie commune that Hentzler ran out of town back in the 1960s, the buildings of which were also subsequently and mysteriously burned down? Two duck hunters later report a cackling gunman shooting at their decoys with an automatic weapon. Soon after, a toddler is discovered abandoned in a snowy ditch, and the child’s mother is found dead, lying in her own house. These incidents—their variety and strangeness—demand some creative investigation from Ray and his partner, DS Sue Lawrence. All clues seem to suggest that these crimes are connected to the events of 40 years ago, but most of the people involved are long gone. What happens if a killer comes to town hoping to target Hentzler only to learn that he’s dead? Who will the killer go after then? Stander’s (Gales of November, 2016, etc.) prose is controlled and sparse, evoking both Ray’s deliberative personality and the midwinter Michigan landscape: “He lifted his head and watched as the truck quickly disappeared into the swirling snow. Then he looked around. The mangled remains of a snowmobile were mired in mud just below him in the ditch.” While certain aspects of the plot are a tad predictable, others are wonderfully unexpected, and the author’s practiced pacing should keep readers engaged throughout. Fans of the series should be pleased with this engrossing episode.
A well-told mystery that involves Midwesterners forced to grapple with their town’s past.