Sun Valley, Idaho is home to an annual wine auction. This year's wine auction includes three bottles purported to have been a gift from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams. These historic treasures bring in wine connoisseurs from around the world as well as thieves. Sheriff Walt Fleming has to make sure the auction goes off without a hitch, which may be tougher than he thought when a murder occurs before the auction even begins. When Walt receives a report that his nephew may be abducting a minor he's not sure which way to turn.
KILLER SUMMER, the third book in Ridley Pearson's Sun Valley series, added killer fun to my reading list. I knew almost from the get-go that KILLER SUMMER was going to be a quality read. The book starts out with a death that Walt and his nephew observe but are powerless to stop:
"When the convulsions began, the two stopped the gurney and tended to him. But death was upon him, in its unforgiving way. A series of violent, guttural gasps were followed by an oppressive silence, and he had passed.
Kevin went quiet, looking on in horror, longing for a PAUSE button that didn't exist.
The paramedics, not giving up, finally got the gurney into the back of the ambulance.
Kevin sank wordlessly by his uncle's side.
'God...' Kevin finally choked out.
'Let's hope so,' Walt said."
This is simply one of the finest, most powerful death scenes I have read in quite some time. In crime fiction we sometimes forget that death is a horrific event. Every life - and therefore every death - matters. This scene makes the reader slow down and not only remember that fact, but experience that fact.
Those who read my reviews regularly know that I will often rave about the "flawed" protagonist. I prefer that my protagonists are not unbelievable superheros. Walt fits that profile well. He doesn't always say the right thing; he doesn't always make the right decisions. But he's authentic and empathetic. A great combination when you want your reader to connect with your character. And how can you help but love a sheriff in charge of a high class wine auction who chuckles to himself as he listens to the wine connoisseurs because "to him, wine came in a box, and eventually went down the toilet." He's the common man dealing with life's not so common events.
KILLER SUMMER has an outstanding supporting cast of characters as well. Fiona, Walt's part time crime scene photographer is a character I took to from the very beginning. She's smart and witty and yet still makes mistakes. Summer was a character I thought I wasn't going to like, but instead as she developed throughout the course of the novel, she became one of my favorites. What perfect use of development; allow the reader to get to know a character, to break through the outer mask and see the whole person.
The relationships between the characters is the icing on the cake, or maybe for this book they're the fizz in the champagne. Just as the characters are unique, their relationships are too. And the relationships actually work to fuel the action of the plot. A book can have excellent pieces parts - characters, settings, plot - but if those pieces aren't working well together, the book falls apart. Pearson knows how to make his pieces function together; regardless of how dysfunctional the individuals are, the whole hums like a well-oiled machine. I can't wait to see what trouble this cast can wiggle its way into next.
KILLER SUMMER (ISBN: 978-0-399-15572-7) was released by G.P. Putnam's Sons in June this year.