Thursday, March 31, 2011

Strike Dog (A Woods Cop Mystery), by Joseph Heywood

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

• Paperback: 392 pages
• Publisher: The Lyons Press, 2008
• Price: $15.95
• ISBN-10: 1599213648
• ISBN-13: 978-1599213644

Fifth in the Woods Cop Mystery series, Strike Dog is another engrossing murder mystery by Michigan author, Joseph Heywood. Heywood, in fact, lives in the very same town that I do, and spends a great deal of time himself in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, as I do, so that was my initial hook into reading his novels. Once I became acquainted with sharp-minded and equally sharp-tongued conservation officer (CO) Grady Service, however, I was hooked for reasons of good reading.

Strike Dog is probably my favorite in the series thus far. When Heywood writes love stories, as he does here and there throughout the series, I tend to lose interest—his female characters lean toward “hot and tough” female stereotype, a bit too over the top—but when his sensual encounters stay in the background, as they do here, I enjoy the action and the skillful writing.

The storyline of this book is built upon what first appears to be an accident, but soon becomes clearly a murder of Service’s love, Maridly Nantz (hot and tough female CO) and his son, Walter. It appears the two veered off the road and hit a tree, but Service knows better. Nantz was an expert pilot, he keeps saying to anyone who will listen, meaning that she knew how to respond under stress and in whatever circumstance.

What ensues is an investigation that at first seems independent of the car accident, but eventually ties into it. Service is pulled into working with the FBI to solve a series of gruesome murders of conservation officers in and outside of Michigan. It gives Heywood a chance to shine at what he writes best—rich descriptions of the northern wilderness with a bevy of colorful characters and a buildup of suspense as clues slowly come together toward a conclusion.

Grady Service is a woods cop that the reader will enjoy learning about and following on his treks through the woods. I’ve enjoyed watching him take on more and more character throughout the series—a tough guy with a keen mind, a sharp wit, and a deep sense of integrity. The characters that show up in this and previous books, such as the eccentric villain Limpy Allerdyce, are also a treat.

In fact, it’s a treat just to see what character name Heywood will come up with next—one more unusual than the other. Fiannula, Rud Hud, Tatie Monica, Treebone, Shamekia Cilyopus-Woofswshecom just to start on the roster. One senses the author having a bit of fun, with the occasional jab at a real-life politician (Dubya in this book) at their expense. Dialogue sparkles, dialect adds sense of place, and the action takes few breaks.

“Service drove back to the encampment near the crime scene, hoping Shamekia would come up with some answers. Had the feds missed something? This was more than possible, he knew; the Bureau was the same outfit that knew some jerkwads from the Middle East were taking flight lessons with more interest in takeoffs than in landings, and did nothing about it. Shit happened in bureaucracyland; investigators blinded themselves with their own assumptions, and it didn’t hurt to question everything, even with an agency with more assets than God.”

By now, I’m in for the long haul, ever on the lookout for the next in the series, less for the reveal of the solved criminal case as the journey of getting there, U.P. style.

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