It was tough to shake off chills this week after reading the latest mystery novel by Elena Taylor, an author who lives in the Cascade Foothills outside of North Bend, Washington.
“All We Buried” is set in the Cascades, in the fictional lakeside town of Collier. This carefully plotted tale begins when a dead body is pulled out of Lake Collier.
The victim is a young woman. Collier’s interim sheriff, Bet Rivers, is tasked with ascertaining her identity and figuring out who her killer is.
Bet isn’t back in her hometown because she wants to be. Her dad, Earle Rivers, was the longtime lawman in this former mining town. He asked her to take a temporary leave from her job in Los Angeles to sub for him as he went through chemo. But instead of getting better, Earle died.
Now, Bet, instead of following her dream of working up through the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department, finds herself stuck in Collier, trying to fill her dad’s shoes.
How does she feel about this? “No easy way to extricate herself now, short of gnawing off her own foot.”
Reluctantly, Bet is on the ballot in the fall election, running for sheriff in accordance with her dad’s dying wish. Her opponent is Dale, a deputy Earle hired. But her dad didn’t believe Dale was ready to take on the job. Now that Bet has worked with Dale on mundane cases, she’s seen how he tends to cut corners on easy tasks, indicating he isn’t ready to take on the responsibilities of sheriff.
All of this makes for an awkward workplace environment. But now that they’re confronted with a murder case, Bet hopes it will be an all-hands-on-deck response.
Besides having Dale to work with, there is Alma, the office lady, and Clayton, a part-time deputy. For the coroner and other services, Bet relies on a larger town that’s 30 minutes away.
Collier’s law enforcement is spread thin as they begin questioning a variety of characters in this case: the geology professor who discovered the victim’s body; the owner of a ranch offering rehabilitation services for troubled youth; the caretaker of a locked-up estate belonging to the family that owned the town’s abandoned mine; and the scion of that family, who has returned after many years away.
Complicating things further on another front, Bet’s childhood sweetheart is also back in town, recovering from a difficult divorce.
The author takes readers into the local bar for burgers and bluegrass music, out onto the frigid waters of Lake Collier, over forested mountain ridges via helicopter, down into abandoned mineshafts and into small-town secrets and the troubling depths of repressed memories of traumatic events.
“All We Buried” is a real page-turner.
As for who-dun-it? I’ll only confess that this reader was miles off base.