Dead Loudmouth, the follow-up to Dead Rapunzel, is the 16th in Victoria Houston’s Loon Lake Mystery series. If a series manages that kind of lengthy publication run, readers can be certain they are at the least getting a workmanlike ‘whodunit’ from a writer who knows what she is doing, even if nothing more. In the case of Victoria Houston, they are getting a good deal more.
The recipe for Houston’s Loon Lake Mystery’s success lies in the author’s tasty seasoning of rural mayhem and murder with a large dollop of fishing lore and angling experience. Fly-rods, fishing line, and lures—Houston writes with authority, an authority shared with Lewellyn Ferris, the Lake’s Police Chief and the series’ heroine. Ferris isn’t the only fishing enthusiast. Indeed, all the tale’s ‘good guy regulars’ are fish people. There’s boyfriend and sometime deputy, retired dentist Doc Osborne. There’s fishing guide Ray Pradt who helps out with photography and tracking on investigations. And when help from a neighboring crime scene investigation team is needed, the lead investigator wants some help with his casting technique. Add to that Osborne’s granddaughter, a cute 12 year old with a passion for the sport, and a local college’s muskie fishing tournament and there’s fishing enough to satisfy the expectations of even the most avid of enthusiasts.
On the other hand, if there is a drawback to such lengthy series, it can be the need to keep it fresh. This is especially true when the setting is a small town in Wisconsin. I mean Loon Lake isn’t Chicago; how many different kinds of murders over the years are readers likely to find reasonable? After a while Loon Lake is likely to seem like the murder capital of the Midwest. Moreover, at least in the current case, Houston, perhaps in the interest of freshness, perhaps not, has gone over the top in this particular murder scenario.
It seems the owner of a gentleman’s club just marginally in the Loon Lake jurisdiction has been found sans clothes atop one of the strippers also sans clothes, both crushed atop a piano rigged to rise from the stage to the ceiling as the finale to her act. It may be an accident; it may be murder. Either way, while titillating for some, it may test others’ willingness to suspend disbelief. To be clear though, readers willing to buy into the crime scenario will have no problem with the way Chief Ferris goes about dealing with it.
In Lewellyn Ferris, Houston has created the kind of charismatic, assured character that a strong series can be built on. She is no shrinking violet; she makes sure that everyone knows who is in charge. She is an expert fly-fisher who knows what she is doing with a rod, and she is a professional police chief who knows what she is doing with a murder investigation. Dead Loudmouth has her working at her competent best.