John Straley is one of my favorite authors, ever.
I was hooked by The Woman Who Married a Bear. I loved The Curious Eat Themselves. I've read every word he's ever had published in book form, and have a hard time waiting between books.
This last wait was the worst. It stretched on forever.
It was worth it.
This one is the best yet.
We lose Cecil Younger, but we gain four fascinating characters that we'll never forget. Five, if you count the bird.
Slip is a logger who quits when a friend of his dies high in a tree. He is going to 'retire' to a quiet life of farming. Or so he thinks.
In reality, his life is going to spiral around and down like something gross being flushed down a toilet. Every time he tries to escape the latest horrific event, everything just gets worse.
Ellie is his love interest, if you can call it that. He's attracted to her, but is also more than a little scared of her. It's more fascination than love, but just as powerful. She gets him into new legal jams twice as fast as he can get out of the last jam. [Death follows her, and therefore Slip, like a lonely puppy.]
Ellie's fetching niece, Annabelle, helps keep him interested, as in some strange way does Annabelle's bird, a cockatiel named Buddy.
A Seattle detective named George is after all of them, because he is intent on bringing Ellie and Slip to justice, not much caring what happens to the kid and the bird.
That's all I'm going to say about plot, because the story line, while strong, is not what makes this book 'cook.' What lifts it above mere mystery is Straley's magnificent style, his keen insight into what makes characters tick, or not, and his knack for grabbing us where we live emotionally and never letting go.
In the end, what matters is not who is or who is not guilty of murders galore, but who is or is not truly human. That's always been true in Straley, and this time around it's truer than ever.
I stand in awe.