Better to Rest by Dana Stabenow is her fourth Liam Campbell mystery. This is the first time Iíve read Stabenow, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised, although I was bogged down for the first ninety pages figuring out who the characters were (Wy and Bill are female characters) and how they were connected. The anonymous journal entries (in italics and without capitals or punctuation) that begin most chapters also irritated me because I felt they slowed the pace. Luckily Stabenow doesnít rely on them to propel the story and uses them sparingly once the pace does pick up.
Liam Campbell, Alaska state trooper, is the law in the little town of Newenham, and murder is no stranger in these parts. I chuckled when I read that his partner was named Diana Prince (Wonder Womanís alias) and an FBI agent named James Mason makes a brief, but memorable appearance. The discovery of the wreckage of a 1941 C-47, a gold coin found clutched in one of the crew memberís hands, and the recent murder of a flirtatious senior citizen named Lydia Tompkins are beautifully woven together to create a knockout plotline worthy of any miniseries. Add subplots such as Liam and Wyís turbulent relationship, long-buried family secrets making an untimely reappearance, a Native shaman and a potential military cover-up, and you have a fast-paced mystery on your hands.
For those out there who have been following Sgt. Campbellís adventures in the Great White North, you will not be disappointed. As for those of you like me, who are new to this Alaska-based writer, I strongly urge you to start at the beginning with Campbellís first appearance in Fire and Ice. The characters are all well-developed, but I felt as though I had walked in on them at a party in mid-conversation. Enjoyable, yes, but I felt that I was missing a lot of personal backstory that would have made the story even more delicious.
Life is hard in Alaska, and apparently so are the men. The nights may be cold, but the residents of Newenham produce enough heat to melt a glacier. I have never read a mystery with so many sexual encounters. These spicy and imaginative encounters occurr not just among the youthful residents but among seniors -- and all are titillating and well-written. I had one thought (two, actually) when I read these passages: ďForget retiring in Florida, think Alaska insteadĒ. The tone of the novel is reminiscent of Patricia Cornwellís Kay Scarpetta series minus the forensic details. Stabenow creates plenty of character conflict and is clearly laying the foundation for more adventures in Newenham. After Iíve worked my way through the Liam Campbell mysteries, Iíll try her Kate Shugak series.