Lydia's Literary Lowdown Reviews: Killing Trail

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When a young woman is found dead, a new K-9 team will discover if they have what it takes to solve crimes...or not.

 

It’s not just any old dead body she finds.

No, it’s the half-buried body of Belle’s best friend that she uncovers deep in the woods of rural Colorado.

Wounded herself and grieving, it’s understandable when Belle snaps at Robo.  A recent addition to the law enforcement team in Timber Creek, Robo and his partner, Mattie Cobb, begin their murder investigation shortly after discovering the body Belle unearthed. Initially, other than identifying the victim, their investigation yields very little. Grace’s body is not lying where she was killed, and no one can come up with any immediate motive for anyone to take her life. Grace had no enemies. She’d been nothing but a model citizen.

Once the small community of Timber Creek learns of her untimely death, their grief is overwhelming. In large part this is due to Grace’s youth. Only sixteen years old when she died, she’d just gotten her license, and to celebrate, her parents bought her a new SUV. That the SUV is now missing only complicates the investigation. But when a possible connection between Grace’s death and the recent increase in drugs in Timber Creek pops up, Mattie has no choice but to approach Timber Creek’s local vet, Cole Walker. She asks if he’ll allow Mattie to interview his daughter, Angela, Grace’s former close friend.  Angela might be the key to discovering if there is a connection between Grace and the increased drug trafficking in the area.

Mattie and Robo won’t be going alone to interview Angela, however. Detective Stella LoSasso will be accompanying them. With her terse, abrupt personality, Stella asks Mattie to take the lead in questioning Angela, admitting that she’s never been much good with kids. Mattie agrees, glad her years of living in a foster home can finally come in handy. And while Angela doesn’t break the case wide open, they she does give them one valuable piece of information.

Belle points them in the same direction Angela did. As a matter of fact, Belle didn’t just find the possible connection between Grace’s death and the increased drug trade in Timber Creek: she was the connection. Wounded while digging Grace’s body out of a shallow grave, Belle was sent to be examined by Cole Walker. He’d expected she had a gunshot wound — but Cole never dreamed he’d find balloons full of dope inside her stomach.

With that additional piece of the puzzle, everything Mattie has learned so far points to Mike Chadron, a cook at a local chicken joint who runs the local dog kennel. Not just any dog kennel, either: the dog kennel where Grace got Belle as a pup. As suspects go, Mike is just about perfect. Owning the kennel means he’d have access to dogs  and could force feed drug-filledballoons down their throats. He’s also conveniently absent when law enforcement attempts to locate his whereabouts. More damning still, when they interviewed Angela, she revealed that Grace had a crush on Mike and would secretly follow him to see what he was up to.

In Mike’s absence, disturbing new theories about who the killer might be materialize.

Mattie’s welfare check changes everything.

 Mizushima’s debut hits all the right spots for mystery lovers. If the pace is somewhat relaxed, well, being a small town country girl myself, I can confirm that’s exactly what speed life moves at in rural communities. And though her character work enthralls – I particularly liked that she refrained from making a male cop Mattie works with a stereotypical misogynist – there was one facet of Killing Trail that truly fascinated me:  Robo and Mattie’s relationship. You see, Mattie is Robo’s handler. He is her K-9 partner. As the book begins, they’ve just come out of training academy together, so Grace’s murder is their first big case. There is no guarantee they’ll make it as partners. Both Robo and Mattie are working on a probationary basis — both being judged every minute on how well they work together as a team. That their evolving relationship throughout the book mesmerizes is largely due to my own ignorance of what exactly a K-9 partnership looks like through the eyes of an insider.  Mizushima’s skill in portraying the dynamics of such a relationship — from tentative trust to enduring loyalty — is exquisitely done.

 It’s a dim world Robo and Mattie walk in Killing Trail.

Perhaps that’s why it’s their brightness I’ll most remember.

 

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