Life in Rockton is about to get even more dangerous in This Fallen Prey, Kelley Armstrong's third Casey Duncan novel (available February 6, 2018).
The third novel in Kelley Armstrong’s Casey Duncan series is a twisty, thorny, thrill ride! 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. As This Fallen Prey opens, they are faced with an untenable decision. The council has shipped them a prisoner, Oliver Brady, who the council claims is a serial thrill killer. Rockton has to host Oliver for six months, after which the young man will hopefully be persuaded to enter voluntary exile on a private island resort, sponsored by a worried, wealthy stepfather who has an eye both on his beloved wife and on his media-shy company’s bottom line.
Trouble is Rockton isn’t equipped to hold a serial killer. Worse, Oliver insists he’s innocent. The townsfolk are quickly up in arms over his presence, and things only get worse when Oliver makes a break for it. It looks like he might have had inside help too, but that’s almost the least of Casey and Eric’s worries as they try to retrieve Oliver before the many dangers of the surrounding wilderness can claim him first. After all, they don’t want Oliver dead—until, perhaps, they have plenty of reason to.
Phew, this was such a rollercoaster ride of a book! It was so hard to know who to trust in an atmosphere that was oddly claustrophobic for being set in such great outdoor spaces. Ms. Armstrong really knows how to write a setting, and the many plot twists not only kept me guessing but also had me more and more intrigued as to the overarching mythology of the series. One really messed up but completely plausible plot thread concerns the nearly feral people who populate the woods beyond Rockton—as thought through by Casey, our first-person narrator, who has a theory:
A theory for which I have zero proof, and that only makes it worse, makes me fear it is truly madness arising from hate and prejudice, a place no detective can afford to draw from.
My theory is that the hostiles are not Rockton residents who left and “went native” in the most extreme way. That such a thing is not possible, not on such a scale, because that is not what happens to humans when they voluntarily leave civilization. […] To become [like] this, I believe you need additional circumstances. Mental illness. Drug addiction. Medical interference.
My theory is that the council is responsible for what I see here. I don’t know why they’d do that. I have hypotheses, but I won’t let them do more than flit through my brain or I may begin to believe I truly am losing my mind in this wild place.
Casey, by the way, is a pretty cool character. Asian-Canadian with a checkered past that she’s finally coming to terms with, she’s the Renaissance woman of detectives—a product of her willingness to learn. And it's a good thing, too, given the many hats she has to wear in Rockton. I really enjoy getting to know more of her complicated psyche and past as she faces the many challenges Rockton, and this new case in particular, throw her way.
The problem with determining the cause of a fire? The evidence has gone up in smoke. Which is why there are trained experts for this—experts who are not police detectives. But I am every investigator in Rockton, and this is one of the many areas I’ve been researching. I’ve always been a believer in lifelong learning. I took every course my department would send me on. Learned every new technique. Attended ever local conference on my own dime, even as my colleagues rolled their eyes and said, “We hire experts for that, Casey.” True. I did not need to know anything about forensic anthropology, because I wouldn’t ever be the person analyzing buried remains. But I wanted to know. And now I am that person. Jack-of-all-trades, feeling truly master of none.
Watching Casey come to terms with her new life as she unravels the tangled mess of lies and murder that is hers to solve is a fascinating study. Questions of innocence and guilt, culpability and sacrifice are all examined as Rockton tries to come to grips with Oliver’s presence in their midst. While the mysteries of this case are solved more than satisfactorily, the ending sets up a whole bunch of new questions and plot paths that spell turmoil for both the town and Casey personally. If you love highly atmospheric murder mysteries set in the wilderness with incredibly rich histories and plentiful plot twists, then this is a series you need to read!
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
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