August 18, 2003

Dead Angler
Dead Creek
Dead Water
by Victoria Houston

Except for the annoying titles, these books are actually a lot of fun. They take place in Loon Lake, Wisconsin--somewhere up there north of Wausau and in the vicinity of a bunch of tourist towns catering to fishing and hunting each in its own season. After spending a week a summer for nearly all of my 45 years in the northern part of either Wisconsin or Minnesota, I have come to the conclusion that folks who name lakes have a limited vocabulary. The list goes like this: Sand Lake, Stone Lake, Loon Lake, Deer Lake, Moose Lake, Wolf Lake, Timber Lake, Pine Lake, Goose Lake etc etc etc. Sometimes, they got fancy and tossed a Native American name in there which you have to be a local to pronounce. Try Chequamaghon on the tongue. It's pronounced, stay with me here, sha-KWA-ma-gun. Actually, I cheated. That's a National Forest. Sissibagama is the lake we stay on when we go. We call it Big Siss so as not to confuse it with it's neighbor, Little Sissibagama, known as Little Siss.

Anyway, the books were lots of fun, especially when read on a lake with loons calling on the water. The local retired dentist, Paul Osborne, meets the Chief of Police, Lew Ferris when the local bait shop owner sets up fly fishing lessons for him. Lew is a healthy, attractive and very opinionated woman who can outfish him in a heartbeat and who uses fishing as relaxation from the rigors and stresses of running a police department on a short budget amidst a well-entrenched good-ole-boys network. Osborne's wife died a couple years back and he's looking for a hobby. Fly fishing fits the bill. So when he discovers a body during their first lesson, she instantly deputizes him to do a forensic dental exam on the victim. Thankfully, he did forensic dental work in Korea. And apparently, nothing grosses him out since he's digging his ungloved hands into a mouth that's been dead and in the water for a couple days. Plus, he's a marvel because he recognizes the teeth even though all the gold has been drilled out after death. That happened a couple times thru the series and I kept wondering if MY dentist would know my teeth just by looking at them without the chart and face to match.

The whole series goes from there. Osborne has a neighbor who is apparently good looking, intelligent, full of heart and who refuses to work at legal occupations but is a dynamite poacher and tracker/field guide. Oh, and he leaves messes of panfish at the local convent in return for excellent fried chicken and potato salad so he's gotta be ok if the nuns like him. He wears a trademark hat with a stuffed trout sitting crosswise on it. And we find out more and more about what a crummy marriage Osborne had with his dead wife as he starts falling in love with the Chief of Police who is a good ten years younger than he is and causes him no end of angst about whether he is worthy.

The series is totally entertaining in a mindless way, especially if you enjoy the silly stuff she writes about. I especially enjoyed it since she fills it full of local Wisconsin color that is instantly recognizable if you live in the state. Somehow, the light hearted tone and the small town eccentrics reminded me a little of Mitford. She even tosses in a Dooley-like character in the third book. There is a fourth out that I googled for after coming back home to the computer and that I plan on having my local bookstore owner order for me when I go to town today for groceries.

Posted by Deb English at August 18, 2003 07:18 PM