Self (339 pp.)
$14.99 paperback, $6.99 e-book ISBN: 979-8816006910
June 30, 2022
In this second installment of a mystery series, a hiker’s discovery in a bucolic corner of the Pacific Northwest quickly turns into a Grand Guignol spectacle.
Stella Fargo—a “buttinski,” a doctoral candidate in administration, and the story’s narrator—is checking on the disappearance of her friend Hannah Pickett, who has been missing for four months. Hannah is a photographer (“She possessed a good eye, an expensive camera, and talent”). Near Hannah’s property, a hiker stumbled on a shallow grave containing a couple of female cadavers. Further digging revealed a veritable necropolis in those woods. The acting sheriff, Undersheriff Nolan Hogue, is beyond rude to those he deals with. Then there’s Keenie Isler, a local woman who runs a daycare. While Hogue is hostile, Keenie is addled, ghoulishly obsessed with “angels,” which are often interchangeable with dead babies—her own dead babies. Her husband, Jonas, is another hateful character and a tool of the undersheriff. Stella finds herself in the thick of things, getting shot at routinely while trying to ascertain whether Hannah’s body is buried in the woods. Meanwhile, a former lover attempts to arrange for Stella’s murder from his prison cell. An amateur sleuth just can’t catch a break. But a break does come when Stella realizes that Hogue is an imposter. Exposed as a man with several identities, he goes on the run. Now, it falls to the sheriff’s department to regroup, and Stella and her friends want to help. Along the way, there are several more nail-biting scenes, ugly turns, and revolting discoveries. Holt is a proficient writer, and Stella is a likable hero. But the riveting book—which has some references to the series opener—is just a tad over-the-top. Stella is not just shot at, but shot up many times. She seems to have remarkable survival and healing skills. One of the villains is a supreme sicko, and readers may want to know what made him what he is today (but perhaps, like Iago, that’s best left a mystery). There are good, gutsy characters whom the audience will root for, like Sally, Keenie’s oldest child, and Exie Havelok, the matriarch of the community. Community actually seems to be the key here, and the author deftly drives that point home time and again.
A gripping and gruesome thriller with an appealing hero.
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