Monday, June 01, 2015

Fly-Fishing, Ice Fishing, and Murder: DEAD RAPUNZEL, Victoria Houston

The 15th Loon Lake, Wisconsin, mystery from Victoria Houston is a satisfying traditional mystery with the flair of Houston's now well-developed characters: Police Chief Lew (Lewellyn) Ferris, who enjoys the community collaboration of her job; Lew's close (yes, very close) friend and fellow fly-fisherman Doc Osborne, a retired dentist who fills in as a death examiner for Lew's team; and the inimitable Ray Pradt, angler and, despite his fish-shaped hat and endless jokes, a magnet for smart savvy women visiting the region (and he's an excellent tracker, too). As in many of the other books in this series, solving the crime draws on the skills of each of these investigators.

Look especially for fishing aspects in DEAD RAPUNZEL, because the title has nothing to do with the long-haired girl in the tower -- the Wilcox Rapunzel Olive is the rather unusual name of an elegant hand-tied fishing fly, pictured below, and the victim who's murdered in the first chapter is herself an angler and ties flies. She's Rudd Tomlinson, a wealthy widow about to open a prestigious museum as a gift to her part of rural Wisconsin. When she's pushed under a logging truck (eww!), the icy weather can't keep Lew and Doc from tracking the killer. The main problem is, so many people have motives for this one! And although the investigation quickly eliminates Rudd's dear friend Judith (also a fly-fisher), plenty of family malice, financial gain, and a lust for power and control mean that half a dozen others are "on the hook," so to speak.

Houston's writing is direct, a good storyteller on a roll. She alternates mostly between Lew's point of view and Doc's, and in this case Doc Osborne is an acute observer of the suspects, including the dead woman's stepdaughter, Sloane, caught trying to take a valuable painting from the victim's home:
Like a muskie fisherman with a lunker on the line, he couldn't help being interested in how this scenario would play out. Sloane, however confident she might be in her attempt to sneak something out of her stepmother's home, had two formidable foes: Lew had the authority of the law while Judith was angered by the attempted theft, which she was not hesitant to block.

"Sloane," said Judith, her voice even, "I don't think you are aware that Rudd was killed in a traffic accident this morning. I'm sorry you have to hear it this way, but I hope that explains why Chief Ferris and Dr. Osborne are here.

"Thing is, her death may not have been an accident. The driver of the truck that hit her has sworn that he saw someone -- a man -- push her. If that's true, she was murdered."
Winter in Wisconsin is no time for fly-fishing, despite the book's title (which in this case refers to some flies in a display case at the victim's home), but Ray Pradt's willing moves, taking Judith ice-fishing, will break open the investigation as the pair of anglers discovers a new range of motives.
the Wilcox Rapunzel fly

There's plenty of Wisconsin in here, along with a healthy dose of fishing, but best of all there's a nicely braided murder investigation that gradually ramps up the tension, until even Chief Ferris herself is in danger.

Houston's 15th is an enjoyable traditional-form mystery; the ice and snow imagery may transport you this summer to a very different season, and the human longings and well-played friendships in DEAD RAPUNZEL can fit quite nicely into the summer reading stack. Pick this one up especially if you enjoy regional mysteries like those of Archer Mayor and Craig Johnson, and for any collection that's covering a range of American states. Fun reading, and it will stand up nicely to a second reading as well.

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