'Dead Lil' Hustler' mixes scenery, mystery

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By Terri Schlichenmeyer, Special to The Gazette
Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sometimes, it's not just about the catch.

Sometimes, the reason you're on the river with a rod in one hand and line in the other is to hear birds, feel the sun or watch the water. Maybe you just like a challenge. Maybe you just want to get away.

Sometimes, you might catch a killer instead of a fish.

In “Dead Lil' Hustler,” another north-woods mystery by Victoria Houston, the kayakers in Nicolet National Forest are understandably nervous. It's not every day they find a snowmobile suit full of bones.

Loon Lake Police Chief Lewellyn “Lew” Ferris figures she knows the identity of the deceased. Earlier in the year, a bank executive had been reported missing. Few people ever venture that far into the woods, so the list of missing persons is short.

Word travels fast, however, and when businessman Jake Barber learns about the body, he heads north.

His son, Liam, hasn't been heard from in days, which is unusual. Liam is an avid fisherman, and the skeleton had been floating near where Jake figured Liam might practice a newfound skill. He hoped Liam was merely lost.

Once upon a time, Paul Osborne had considered himself retired from his dental practice. Still, he was easily enticed by Lew Ferris into working as backup coroner. Not only did Paul like Lew, but her smile makes him feel special. They'd had a little romance going for a while, but Paul thought they had been discreet. It concerned him, therefore, that Bud Jarvison was asking so many questions.

Years ago, Bud and Nancy Jarvison were the wealthiest couple in northern Wisconsin. Their house was the envy of Loon Lake's residents. Bud controlled a local bank; Nancy controlled several committees and bridge clubs. They made no bones about having money, so why was Bud interested in a long-dead pile of bones?

I hear the theme song to “The Andy Griffith Show” in my head every time I read one of Houston's Loon Lake Mysteries. “Dead Lil' Hustler” and its predecessors always transport me to quiet, small-town life—only with dead bodies.

Life is far from bucolic these days in Loon Lake. Murders happen just like in every mystery, but drugs also have found their way north. Still, author Houston gives her characters several chances to take their rods and reels to nearby rivers and lakes, which makes for a nicely balanced novel and an all-around pleasurable read.

Yes, this is part of a series, but the Loon Lake Mysteries can be read alone and out of order. If you're up for a gentle whodunit with no profanity or gore, “Dead Lil' Hustler” is a book to catch.

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