Book Review: The Deepest of Secrets by Kelley Armstrong
By Janet WebbFebruary 18, 2022
The Deepest of Secrets concludes Kelley Armstrong’s Casey Duncan/Rockton series. Here’s a quick “Cliff Notes” explanation of how Rockton came to be (excerpted from a review of This Fallen Prey, Rockton Mystery #3).
First, let me explain Rockton to those new to the series: it’s a small, isolated town in the Yukon wilderness, built decades ago as a haven for those running from their pasts. It’s completely off the grid, with no electricity, no Internet, no cell phones, and not even postal mail. Prospective residents are heavily vetted by a shadowy council who serves as Rockton’s only channel to modern life. No one gets in or out without the council’s permission.
Casey got in by virtue of being a police detective at a time when Rockton desperately needed a homicide investigator. Now, she and the town sheriff, Eric Dalton, are partners in every respect, professional and personal.
The Sword of Damocles has been suspended over the off-radar community of Rockton for quite some time. The folks that run things have learned to live with the threats of impending disaster, specifically, that the off-site council will shut them down. Shut down doesn’t mean replacing the people who run things in Rockton, it means wipe Rockton off the map (which is ironic, considering it’s impossible to find Rockton on a map).
Casey Duncan is dealing with a major kerfuffle: Will Anders, her deputy, stands accused of “murdering his superior officers,” before he arrived in Rockton. A premise of life is that what happened before you arrived in the Yukon town stays secret. Nevertheless, someone revealed Anders’s past in a sign taped high on a pole. The citizens pepper Casey with questions, questions she has no intention of answering.
“I am not going to address the nature of the accusation further. I’ll refrain from comment until I know what the hell I’m talking about, and I would suggest you all do the same.”
“Is that a gag order?” a woman says.
No, Casey replies, it’s more of a plea that people, who’ve “had nothing but positive interactions with Will Anders,” will refrain from “rumor and speculation.” The swirling stories about Anders’s past disintegrate into accusations of cover-ups and blackmail. Sheriff Eric Dalton, Casey’s colleague and significant other, wonders if the Anders accusation is counter-programming, i.e., an attempt to discredit the folks who keep order and good governance in Rockton. Some newcomers chafe under the Draconian rules of the community and see this as an opportunity to shake things up. The council that governs everything in Rockton and hires the indispensable workers, operates by the dictum, “If Your Only Tool Is a Hammer, Then Every Problem Looks Like a Nail.” Criminals of the white-collar variety pay the council enormous sums to allow them to serve out their sentences in Rockton, rather than go to jail in the Lower 48. To the council, their “hammer” is the law enforcement personnel in Rockton.
Casey and Eric have their hands full. While Casey tries to figure out the person(s) behind Anders’s outing, there’s an attempted murder. The anxiety levels in Rockton rachet up in the face of mayhem and possible murder. The Deepest of Secrets is a story that runs on dual tracks. Casey and Eric, assisted by those they trust, investigate the criminal goings-on. Concurrently, they and fellow co-conspirators plan Rockton’s next act. The couple have encountered every variety of human nature over the years. Casey gives this a lot of thought as she envisions a new ground-up community, a town that will address the flaws that afflict Rockton.
That’s the true reveal in Rockton. Not discovering someone lied about their background or committed a crime in their past. It’s finding out they aren’t the person you thought they were, their underlying character hidden behind a false front.
N.B. Spoiler alert. Casey tells Nicole, a “forest dweller allowed into town from medical help,” what’s going on.
“They’re shutting us down.”
She looks over. “What?”
“It isn’t official yet, but it’s coming. No one’s getting extensions. We’ve gotten less than a half dozen new residents in the past few months. I was new when we got you back, and now I’m the old guard.”
“What are you guys going to do?”
I shrug. “Whatever we can. Right now, we just want the council to admit they’re closing us down, so we have something to fight. We’re boxing shadows at this point.”
It’s cathartic when the council finally pulls the plug on Rockton. Casey and Eric have their hands full dealing with another murder and the fears of the townspeople. Is that intentional—a way to divert Casey and her partner from the abrupt decommissioning of their town? Watching the inexorable demolishment of Rockton is painful but stay tuned. The dedicated core of people who love the idea of creating a town from the ground up—a town not governed by mysterious outsiders—are not to be denied. Seeing this idea come to fruition is a satisfying ending to an unforgettable series. That said, let’s hope Kelley Armstrong can be persuaded to give us a glimpse of the new Rockton.