Maiden Rock, Mary Logue, Bleak House Books, Cloth $24.95, Paper, $14.95.
Mary Logue is one of those talented authors who, for no good reason, have been batted around between publishers and for some weird reason have never gained a strong enough foothold with readers to stay in print. I find it "weird" because to me, Logue is as talented as better known and very popular authors like Julia Spencer-Fleming, Sarah Stewart Taylor, Louise Penny, and (less well known, but terrific) Kate Flora. All of these writers have a real vividness to their writing and a true gift with character - the kind of gift that propels a reader through their series at a breakneck pace, hungry for more. Logue's series, set in tiny Pepin County, Wisconsin, features Deputy Sheriff Claire Watkins, who at the beginning of the series was a recent widow on the run from crime in the Twin Cities with a daughter to raise on her own. Through the course of the novels (there are now six) Claire has settled into Pepin County, found a steady boyfriend in pheasant farmer Rich, and her daughter, Meg, has grown into a teenager. Maiden Rock is really about Meg.
One of Logue's other gifts - she is also a poet - is a way with prose that's very lovely. I would compare her to another favorite author of mine, Charlaine Harris, who isn't thought of as a prose stylist but who also has a pithy and memorable way with a phrase. The opening chapter of the book - about a young girl on an unknown (in the first chapter, anyway) drug who sails to her death off of Maiden Rock - is completely indelible. As Logue structures the book, the action is counted down to minutes. Claire gets a call that Meg isn't where she's supposed to be (with her friend, Krista) and Claire and Rich go on a hell for leather chase all over the county looking for her. Since Claire is the main character the outcome of the chase isn't that much of a surprise, but the hunt for Meg is still incredibly suspenseful. Anyone who has ever lived with - or been - a teenager will have their heart in their throat as Claire and Rich look for Meg and unfortunately find Krista at the foot of Maiden Rock.
This book is also a grim look at the horrible work methamphetamines have done to rural America. The call of the drug, the ease of making it, and the absolute destruction it leaves behind are all gruesomely, and realistically, documented here. There's an addict whose mother is desperately trying to get him off the drug; there's the drug addict mother with a neglected toddler; there's the dealer, who is "dead" to his own brother; and there's the tragic Krista, who only tried the drug once. The culpability of Krista's death is teased out of the story slowly and it's not clear exactly what happened until the very end. The ripple effects of the drug are both obvious and long term, but what is perhaps more remarkable, this isn't a polemic. It's a great story with an anti drug message included - but also included is some stuff about family loyalty, trust, friendship, and being a teenager, something Logue seems to remember very clearly. This is a book I had trouble putting down - not just because of the structure, but because of the characters and what happens to them as the story moves forward. If you haven't read Mary Logue before, you're in for a treat.
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