Claire Watkins is a Deputy Sheriff in small-town Fort St. Antoine, but in the second chapter of LAKE OF TEARS she's launched abruptly into the slot of acting Sheriff, as her boss needs quadruple bypass surgery. Coming out of a quiet summer, she's alert and well rested -- a good thing, with the bones of a small young woman discovered in the ashes of an artsy sort of boat burning that's just taken place for a festival atmosphere on the town's lakeshore. At the same time, Claire's and her husband Rich's daughter Meg, age 18 and lingering in town for an extra semester to earn more money before heading off to college, begins an unexpectedly passionate dating relationship. And it turns out that the man who's caught her attention is actually one of Claire's deputies, a returned veteran of the Afghanistan action, still young in years but weighted with the grief of battle and the death of a friend.
It's challenging enough to have your daughter seeing someone so much "older" in experience (Meg looks older than her age; when Andrew finds out, he does indeed pull back some). But for Claire the really tough part is components of her investigation that make her wonder whether Andrew is involved in the death, or somehow knows related information.
The writing is smooth, the plot intriguing, the twists nicely balanced in terms of surprise and "fitting the evidence" -- all proof that this author of 12 mysteries knows her field and tells a good story. I wasn't always happy with the jumps in point of view -- but still there's power here, as well as wise connections to the trials of returning home from armed conflict. I thought of Julia Spencer-Fleming as I read, even though the parallel emotional story as Claire investigates the crime is less dark than Spencer-Fleming's series: family issues around a normal teen growing up, rather than a sense of moral and spiritual crisis.
Author Mary Logue is also a poet, and this comes through in her precise and rich use of language, without slowing the pace. Try this, as Claire first investigates the burned bones of the murder victim:
She walked up to the remnants of the fire and squatted down down, getting her first real close look at the bones. They were not that easy to see, discolored as they were by the fire. If you looked for them, they almost disappeared. Like one of those Magic Eye games where if you squinted your eyes or blurred your vision, you could see the outline of the bones more easily. ...It's not necessarily sensible, but Claire resists the pressure to assume Andrew, the veteran and her new deputy, committed murder in this town. "Yes, she saw some hidden rage in him, but more than anything she saw a well of sadness."
A bundle of bones, that's all that was left of someone who was probably alive a couple days ago. Claire had the urge to touch the delicate finger bones of the hand, but resisted. Do not disturb them.
Good thing Claire can stand back and notice that, because she'll need Andrew on her side to solve the case. If, like me, you're new to Mary Logue's books, pick this one up (published by Tyrus, which is widening its dark noir focus to include some really well-written traditional investigative mysteries like this one). And if you're already collecting these, hurrah for adding number nine in this series, and for your good fortune in knowing about this regional author before she works her way into a national reputation for strong crime fiction.
Author website (a bit out of date) here; and check out Tyrus Books here.