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by Auralee Wallace
St. Martin's Paperbacks, September 2018
310 pages
ISBN: 125015149X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's the end of October in Otter Lake, NH. Erica Bloom and Freddie Ng, one of her partners in Otter Lake Security (OLS), are patrolling the Honeycutt Apple Orchards to make sure no teenagers or other miscreants are lurking in the pre-Halloween dusk. They do come across a small pack, lurking in the neighborhood of the purported home of The Apple Witch, a local legend. Erica, while attempting to get the kids to move it along, falls into the cellar and onto a boot. Not so bad? The boot contains the remains of a human foot. This results in a police presence, Sheriff Grady Forrester, and some romantic complications for Erica. She and the sheriff are working out the finer points of their on-again-off-again relationship and this will certainly have some repercussions, both short and long-term, for Erica and Grady.

Erica has lots of history in Otter Lake. She used to be the primary babysitter for the Honeycutt kids. All grown up now, they have long memories and perhaps a grudge or two to settle - at least the three boys might. Amanda, the youngest and only girl, has her own issues and a secret or two that she wants Erica to keep. Some secrets won't stay hidden long. As Erica investigates, under the guise of her security work for the Honeycutts, other secrets come to light. The identity of the body doesn't really clear anything up; he was supposed to be in Las Vegas, for starters.

This is the sixth Otter Lake mystery. It functions fairly well as a stand-alone, which speaks to Ms Wallace's skills as a writer. The characters, while certainly stepping into some fairly formulaic shoes (cop boyfriend, gay work partner, etc.), don't fall into the trap of being just cookie-cutter types. Erica and Grady do have issues, as one might expect; how they resolve them was a bit out of the ordinary. Erica's mother is a treat all by herself, and their relationship goes a long way towards explaining some of Erica's actions. Wallace's descriptions of Otter Lake are lovely; autumn in any northern state is colorful and crisp, which covers a lot of ground in Wallace's prose. Lest you think I have no quibbles, I have one. The solution to the crime is very deus ex machina. I don't believe that most readers will be able to come to the correct solution with the clues as given. I got close. I don't see any way to make the mental leap to the actual solution without some pretty spectacular mental gymnastics. I have been wrong before. I won't say that this ruined the book for me; it didn't. It just kind of took the edge off.

I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I have been a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin's Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for at least 25 years. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by PJ Coldren, October 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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