In a land of the amoral, the moral relativist is a worthy protagonist.
Armstrong (Forest of Ruin, 2016, etc.) isn’t kidding in the title that kicks off her new series, which focuses on a commune of people who are outsiders for good reason. Casey Duncan, at least, would definitely describe herself that way to her latest therapist. Not all the good work she does as a detective can erase the fact that she once killed a man who didn’t deserve it. Casey channels her desire to do good into helping her friend Diana escape her own bad choices, especially her choices in men. But when Diana’s ex returns to town willing to do serious harm, Casey wrangles the two into Rockton, an off-the-grid sort-of commune of 200 souls for people looking for similar escapes. Though Diana’s story of abuse gains her admission, Casey has to earn her stay as the new detective in town. The current sheriff, Eric Dalton, isn’t pleased to have the help but needs more hands now that there have been two murders in less than a year. Dalton is rough, a lifer used to the oddities of the place, though he’s begun to suspect some of the citizens who claim to be there for protection are fleeing criminal charges rather than threats to their well-being. If that’s the case, it’s possible that a town meant to serve as sanctuary for the inhabitants is more dangerous than the real world. It’s up to Casey and Dalton to find out.
The eerie descriptions of setting and chilling character backgrounds give the tale an almost supernatural edge. Armstrong veers off the rails in her introduction of this creepy place but is firmly back on track by the end.