Although I haven’t read the previous two Macy Greeley novels, after finishing Walleye Junction I felt that I had. Salvalaggio’s tale is one of grim self-discovery tied to the terrible epidemic of prescription drugs sweeping the American
Midwest. The novel opens with an accident: Philip Long’s sudden death as he flies into the windshield of Macy’s car then disappears over the roof. Caught up in a tangle of pain and panic and of grinding metal, Macy
sees Philip Long brutally shot by someone on a motorcycle just as he’s staggering back to his feet.
Although Macy is offered medical leave and now has a chance to spend more time at home with Luke, her young son, she’s also driven by the desire to return to Flathead Valley so that she can continue investigating Long’s kidnapping and murder. Vowing to explore every angle until it makes sense, Macy works with her gutsy colleague Gina Cunningham, discovering that Long was a divisive and popular figure in Walleye Junction. Long’s provocative radio talk show was the catalyst for the unveiling of a number of lurid secrets simmering just beneath the surface of this small, tight-knit community. Long had received a lot of hate mail in the past few weeks, and he was pretty vocal about the growing threat of the militias in Montana.
Long’s death also coincides with the discovery of the bodies of Carla and Lloyd Spencer, lifelong residents of Walleye and addicts who may have been after cash to buy more drugs. According to Aiden Marsh, Walleye’s local detective, the couple had not been dead long and may have died of a drug overdose. Lloyd and Carla’s fingerprints were all over the house where Long was held, yet there’s no indication they were actually planning a kidnapping. Also, Lloyd and Carla were heavily in debt and in danger of losing their home, so it's possible they kidnapped Long for financial gain. Lloyd’s son, Sean Spencer, is still missing, presumably off somewhere with his troublesome new girlfriend.
Neither Macy, Gina, nor handsome Aiden are convinced that Lloyd or Carla had the necessary skills to pull off what happened the night Philip Long was murdered. Philip’s cold-blooded killer didn’t hesitate.
With Macy sidetracked by the case, attention turns to Philip’s daughter, Emma, who has arrived back in town after an absence of over ten years. A wild card of sorts, Emma endured a six-year stalemate with her mother, Francine. Emma also remains haunted by the apparent suicide of her best friend, Lucy. Just before her death, Lucy wrote a damning entry about Emma in her diary, an entry that became the catalyst for Emma’s humiliation in front of the entire town. Paralleling Macy’s investigation, Emma adopts the mantel of amateur sleuth, beginning her own investigation into her father’s murder, one that is well well-intentioned and surprisingly successful. There was no doubt that Long was keeping secrets. Francine is surprised when Emma tells her that he owned a registered handgun. Emma is convinced that he had bought the gun because he was afraid.
As her search unfolds, Emma remembers how she promised to look after Lucy. She’s still plagued by the thought that her death was Emma’s fault. Meanwhile, Macy uncovers facts and motives that invariably put her in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her researching skills work so well that she learns just enough to keep herself out of trouble. The case takes off in a whole new direction when Macy learns from Lloyd’s nephew, Kyle Miller, that the Walleye community is turning to heroin instead of the now hard-to-get pain killers and that Lloyd had threatened Kyle with physical violence. What appears at first to be a carefully calibrated hit turns out to be far more menacing after all--an attempt to hide a series of activities and cover-ups that have the potential to topple the pillars of Walleye’s insular community.
With its intricate twists and surprises, Salvalaggio’s novel is serpentine and provocatively themed. The nature and origin of the area’s prescription drug epidemic is carefully balanced against Macy’s previous personal issues: her continued attraction
to Aiden and Aiden’s demands for something less casual and more permanent. Macy intends to go back to Helena after the case is solved, so there’s little for her to offer Aiden except “something or all of nothing.” Forced to juggle her home life with the constant daily challenges of her job, Macy is barely able to stay emotionally afloat. Emma, meanwhile, finds herself mired in a complex miasma of past quarrels involving old school friend Kyle Miller,
who perhaps knows more about Long’s death than he initially lets on.
Although the novel slows a bit in the middle section as the various suspects are introduced, it picks up towards the end as Macy and her colleagues race to find Sean. A slow-burn of a story that is both subtle and contemporary, Salvalaggio is most effective in showing how the marketing of legal drugs is big business, a great formless blemish on the Walleye community and on the picaresque rural Montana landscapes that she so beautifully conveys.