Book Review: House Standoff by Mike Lawson
By Ray PalenApril 14, 2021
Mike Lawson is one of those writers that seems to fly under the radar. House Standoff is the fifteenth title in his Joe DeMarco series and it just as solid as the other titles I have read from him. What makes this novel even more appealing is that it can be read as a stand-alone, allowing for new readers to find out for themselves what a Joe DeMarco story is all about and possibly seek out other titles in Lawson’s series afterwards.
An author by the name of Shannon Doyle is shot to death in a Wyoming motel, the apparent victim of a robbery gone bad. This news really takes the wind out of Joe DeMarco’s sails because Shannon was once the love of his life. In fact, had she not hit the big-time with her prior novel and moved out to the West Coast they might have ended up together. Instead, Joe is still a lawyer and fixer for the Speaker of the House in D.C. who is now ready to put aside his current duties and catch a flight out to Wyoming to find out what happened to Shannon Doyle.
One of the many things I like about Joe DeMarco is that he is unabashedly conservative—a rare and somewhat unpopular tag these days in either fiction or non-fiction. Even though he is traveling to an area of the country where the political ideology is similar to his own, he will quickly learn that this is the only thing he has in common with the very suspicious small Wyoming town of Waverly. After attending Shannon’s memorial service in her original hometown of Newport, Rhode Island, DeMarco is on the next flight to Wyoming. He checks into the same motel where Shannon was killed and is instantly on the radar of the motel owner, Sam Clarke, who reports DeMarco’s arrival to town Sheriff Jim Turner.
When Joe had researched Waverly, he found that the biggest recent news was the questionable death of a Bureau of Land Management Agent who was most likely murdered. The suspects that the FBI is currently investigating are wealthy rancher and land-owner Hiram Bunt and his boy Sonny. There was a big standoff between the Bunt’s and the BLM that everyone in the area is aware of. Joe will make it a point to catch up with the Casper, Wyoming FBI Agent heading up that case—an aggressive young woman named C.J. McCord.
Joe’s presence in Waverly is very obviously not welcome and there is literally no one he can trust. Whatever research Shannon Doyle had been doing during the two months she was in Waverly had to have unearthed some secrets that she should not have become privy to, making her a target for elimination. The problem is that Joe is busy amassing a list of suspects that makes House Standoff become more of an Agatha Christie murder mystery than your typical story in this series—and I love it! To begin with, you have the Bunt’s who are trying to avoid being brought down for the death of BLM Agent Jeff Hunter and carry a lot of regional influence to make that happen. One person Joe speaks with hints that it may not have been a man who murdered Shannon.
Unfortunately, this does not make it much easier as the list of female suspects includes: the trophy wife of Hiram Bunt who hates her step-son Sonny and is having an affair with Sheriff Turner; the wife of Sheriff Turner who actually thinks Shannon was seeing her husband; the daughter/maid of motel owner Sam Clarke who is angered that Shannon insinuated she may have stolen jewelry from her room to fund her obvious drug habit; and, the café owner Harriet who had befriended Shannon initially but then freaked out when Shannon was over her place and began innocently asking questions about some old photos she had.
House Standoff will keep you guessing right up to the end while simultaneously holding your breath as Joe DeMarco puts himself into one dangerous situation after another. An above-average murder mystery with some well-written characters and a plot that provides you everything you could ask for in a whodunnit!