Charming Door County, Wisconsin – a real location – seems like the perfect backdrop for a lighthearted cozy mystery – a peaceful setting of tiny waterfront villages, rustic parks, quaint shops and restaurants. Death Stalks Door County even seems like a potential cozy title. But the book is anything but, which turns out to be a very good thing.
The book opens just before the Fourth of July, as Door County is ready to begin the annual tourist season. There will be a festival, special parades and events, and the influx of campers and visitors are poised to arrive. Sounds like a great summer is ahead for the idyllic area. But suddenly, in a location where murder is practically unheard of, there are six suspicious deaths within a week. This threatens the tourist season, and everything is about to go very badly, so at first, each death is labeled an accident or suicide.
Enter former Chicago police officer Dave Cubiak, whose own life took a tragic turn when his wife and daughter were killed in an auto accident. Torn up with grief and guilt, he’s fled Chicago for a new job as a Door County park ranger. He wants no part of the small-town locals – he just wants to do his job and drink away his pain.
But old homicide skills remain inside him, and he’s drawn into solving the mysterious deaths. It more or less becomes his salvation. Most people of the town become his suspects – the sheriff, park supervisor, coroner, and a prominent civic leader, among many others. Despite the rapid-fire series of crimes, Death Stalks Door County begins rather slowly. It may be due to the establishment of a large cast of characters, or perhaps first-time novelist (but longtime writer) Patricia Skalka was just finding her footing. About one-third of the way in, though, when Cubiak actually begins his investigation, the book takes flight. It’s fascinating from that point on, and the ending is something no one will see coming. There’s even a hint of a budding romance, and readers will be happy to know that this book is labeled “A Dave Cubiak Mystery,” thankfully hinting at more to come. Welcome to the mystery scene, Patricia Skalka!
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