Book review: ‘Dead Water’ by Victoria Houston

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Doc Osborne was a retired dentist who occasionally was deputized to assist Loon Lake Police Chief Louellen Ferris. Ray Pratt, his neighbor and friend, sometimes was deputized, too. Because Osbourn had some experience with forensic dentistry, he subbed for the politically appointed coroner from time to time. Pratt, whose primary job was as a hunting and fishing guide, was the very best regarding tracking and knowledge of the area.

Both were called upon when a woman was found shot to death in a remote area. It appeared her body was dumped there since there was little blood. The investigation was hardly underway when they were called regarding a second body in another location. The second was less remote, and the woman was known, since she was staying at a local bed and breakfast. She had left for a run and later was found shot in the head. She apparently had been shot in another location.

With the help of the bed and breakfast owners, the dead woman was identified as Amy Olson of Kansas City. Her emergency contact was Gina Palmer, a journalist in Kansas City. Gina was called and asked to come to Loon Lake to provide a positive identification of her friend. She purported to know who had killed Ashley Olson — Michael Winston, a former boyfriend. She would bring pictures.

Chief Ferris also had a lead on the other body. A local family had reported a daughter missing, and further investigation established that the missing daughter was their other murder victim. The only relationship that there seemed to be between the two women was that they were both shot in the head by a high-powered rifle.

Besides the murders, a secondary drama involved Ray Pratt. A former girlfriend had sent a teenage boy, Nick, to him claiming Nick was his son. To offset the teen’s frustration with the lack of Wi-Fi service on Ray and Doc’s phone line, Nick was introduced to Carl, a local gamer and computer guru about Nick’s same age. The relationship worked, and Carl even got Nick a part-time job where he worked, the Wildwood Game Preserve. Nick worked at the game preserve for a man named Hank Kendrickson. Kendrickson had made quite a splash in the area as he promoted his reserve, his hunting and fishing abilities and even courted Chief Ferris. Doc Osbourn didn’t like him. The fact that he employed the boys was a plus, however.

Ashley Olson arrived in Loon Lake and identified her friend’s body. She still maintained that the killer was Michael Winston and that he must be somewhere in the area. At this point, the reader is convinced that Michael Winston and Hank Kendrickson must be the same person, but Ashley meets Hank Kendrickson and doesn’t recognize him. 

My grandfather was a fisherman, my father was a fisherman, and I have a brother who is a fisherman; I’m not. Reading the quotes that front each chapter in “Dead Water” makes me think maybe I should be.

Victoria Houston is the 2021 Vernon County Reads author. She has written 19 books of the “Loon Lake” mystery series. All of them are set in Wisconsin’s Northwoods and explore some aspect of fishing. She will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, at the Performing Arts Center in Westby. Free tickets are available online at wapac.ludus.com or at the door.

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