Wednesday, December 27, 2023


Northwoods by Amy Pease
1/9/24; 288 pages
Atria/Emily Bestler Books

Northwoods by Amy Pease is a very highly recommended mystery/procedural. This excellent debut novel set in a small Wisconsin town features a compelling mystery, substance abuse, a character seeking redemption, and portrays the strength of the bond between parents and children.

Eli North is struggling. His marriage is over, he drinks too much, and he suffers from PTSD and panic attacks. After he returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, his job as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigator was terminated. He did find a job as a detective with the small local sheriff's office in the town of Shaky Lake because his mother, Marge, is the sheriff in Sherman County, Wisconsin. When Eli is called to investigate a noise complaint at a lakeside cabin, he discovers in a boat tied to the dock the body of a teenage boy, Ben Sharpe. It is soon discovered that a teenage girl, Caitlin, is also missing and FBI agent Alyssa Mason arrives to help. The investigation appears to be tied to the opioid crisis but may have roots that extend much further out.

The writing is outstanding in this impressive debut novel. Pease does an exceptional job following the investigation and providing clues along the way while developing both the plot and the characters. With the ties to illegal drugs and the additional suspicions the investigation uncovers, the complexity of the case increases along with the tension and interest in finding out the truth. As the investigation into Ben's murder and the search for Caitlin is underway, it becomes clear that the bond between parents and their children is a central theme. The setting also comes to life and plays a role in the plot.

While the mystery and investigation are complex and compelling, where Northwoods really excels is in the depth and empathy found in the depiction of her characters, especially Eli. All of the characters are fully realized as unique individuals with strengths and weaknesses. The dialogue is well-done and the interpersonal interaction between characters is realistic. These characters feel like real individuals and they will garner your sympathy and compassion as they do the best they can.

Disclosure: My complimentary review copy was courtesy of Atria/Emily Bestler Books via NetGalley.

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