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by Susan Furlong
Kensington, December 2018
280 pages
ISBN: 1496711696

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It's a cold morning in February in the Tennessee mountains and Brynn Callahan is out with her Human Remains Detection dog, looking for a cave containing the body of a young woman. It's part of her job, working for the McCreary County Sheriff's department and it's a job that brings with it a lot of baggage. Brynn is a Traveller, aka Gypsy or Pavee, and that community doesn't trust the police (with good reason, based on decades of history), so her job is an automatic problem for a woman who's spent most of her life as an outsider in her own clan.

Being a Traveller is part of the reason she got the job; there are benefits for the department to having Brynn around - not to mention that Sheriff Pusser really likes Brynn's dog. This particular mission ends badly. There is a body in a cave, and it's the body of a mutilated young female Traveller. The police are unwilling to look outside the Traveller community, no matter how convincing some evidence may be. The Pavee don't want the police looking into the matter at all; they have always handled their own problems and have no reason to trust officials from any law enforcement group. Brynn is not welcome no matter where she goes.

Brynn has other issues. As a ex-Marine with recent combat experience and some nasty IED-related medical issues (including but not limited to PTSD), Brynn has developed a very unhealthy dependence on both alcohol and pills. She thinks she has it under control. She thinks, as all addicts do, that she can quit anytime. During the course of the investigation, it becomes quite clear that Brynn doesn't have it under control, and she can't quit any time she wants to. This causes her some major career problems. It also messes with what little personal life she has.

As Brynn investigates, there are enough suspects to go around, both within the Pavee community and the settled townsfolk. There are also some sub-plots, which Furlong handles competently. Some of these plots have the definite potential to resurface in the next book or two. This is a good thing. Furlong writes with confidence about a group of people most readers know little about; she's done her homework. The setting is about as welcoming as a mountain February winter can be, and it works well for this story. My one complaint as a reader is personal more than anything else: I am getting a little tired of every ex-veteran cop/investigator being saddled with a drug/alcohol problem and/or PTSD. I know it makes for a more complex character; I'm pretty sure that Brynn could have been flawed enough without that baggage. It does speak to Furlong's skill as a writer that, even when I wanted to smack Brynn upside the head (which was often), I kept reading; she was that believable as a character. If that character issue doesn't matter to you as a reader, this is a very compelling book.

§ 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, November 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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