Wasche (Escape to Alaska, 2014) returns to Alaska for a mystery involving a suspicious death, a novice defense attorney, and a touch of romance.
On an isolated back road outside of Wasilla, Alaska, Gary LaVassar, a 60-something local with a checkered past and a serious alcohol problem, sees the near-frozen body of a naked young woman on the side of the road. In a decision he will come to regret, he stops to investigate, asks a passing driver to report the fatality to the state troopers, and waits hours for them to arrive, unwilling to leave the victim’s side. After a few ill-considered moves, LaVassar goes from good Samaritan to prime suspect and is incarcerated. Despite extensive law enforcement and defense scrutiny, no other possibilities emerge for the high-profile murder of Jennifer Williams, a popular kindergarten teacher, mother, and wife of a successful dentist. LaVassar’s defender is a rookie lawyer who arrived in Wasilla from Boston only days before. Preston Mills moved to Alaska and accepted the position in the public defender’s office in an attempt to escape from overbearing parents and an unfulfilling relationship. Upon meeting LaVassar’s spirited and loyal daughter Cindy, Mills, unable to contain his attraction for her despite repeated warnings from his superior, instigates an affair. The story offers a promising premise and a haunting natural environment. But the plot proceeds to introduce characters who lack depth or personality. Nick Kerrans, one of the state troopers on the case, loves his wife, Kay, very much (“He couldn’t imagine losing her. Couldn’t bear the thought of an empty bed or nights without her cuddled in beside him. Jennifer Williams’ husband had to wake up every morning now to an empty bed”). Affectionate spouses are sweet but hardly make for compelling fiction. The passionate attraction between Mills and Cindy is portrayed in an equally flat manner—he sees her, he desires her, he proposes to her. Tension remains minimal both among those seeking the real killer and those eluding the authorities. In a rush of new information and coincidences, the mystery is abruptly solved.
An appealing premise and an evocative setting are marred by a cast of lackluster characters and contrived conclusions.