“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”
Sir Walter Scott wrote it hundreds of years ago. Patricia Skalka shows it is still true with Death at Gills Rock, the second in her Door County mystery series. The plot originates during World War II when U.S. troops battled to keep the Japanese out of the Aleutian Islands. Another anniversary of Pearl Harbor is coming up December 7. How many U.S. citizens are aware the Aleutians figured in that war? Some old-timers in Door County, Wisconsin, know it because their Coast Guard played an important part in delivering troops to the Aleutians, rescuing them after battle and from horrendous weather and returning them home.
Death at Gills Rock centers around the apparent accidental deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning of three life-long friends, veterans of the Coast Guard’s Aleutian war effort. It features Dave Cubiak from Skalka’s first mystery, Death Stalks Door County. In that story, Dave was a Chicago homicide detective working in Door County as a park ranger while trying to recover from grief over the deaths of his wife and daughter in an accident. After playing a major role in solving a crime that occurred then, he was elected Sheriff and became a permanent resident. He was called to the scene when the bodies of the three victims were discovered. They were successful businessmen, popular supporters of community activities, admired as military heroes and about to be honored at the opening ceremony for a display of war memorabilia. The deaths were originally assumed accidental due to a flaw in the heater in the building where they were playing cards. That feeling changed when a letter arrived saying, “They got what they deserved,” and the building where they died was smeared with red paint. Sheriff Cubiak is drawn into a complicated “tangled web” as he tries to figure out what actually happened.
Patricia Skalka is a former freelance writer for Reader’s Digest, specializing in medical and human interest stories. She has also been a magazine editor, ghostwriter, and writing instructor. A native of Chicago, she lives in the city and takes time off at her cabin in Door County. Skalka has spent a lot of time there, and she knows and understands the area, often called the Cape Cod of the Midwest, very well. This was evident in her first mystery in the series; and in the second, she is careful to touch on appropriate references and connections related to the first title. This will be recognized and welcomed by readers familiar with the first book, but reading the first is not necessary to enjoying the second. Skalka is a skilled writer, evidenced by the realistic, charming way she covers the experiences a big-city homicide detective encounters adjusting to his new life style—his adopted dog presenting him with a litter of six puppies, helping a friend renovate an antique sailboat, and learning to navigate the waters of Lake Michigan.
The path Sheriff Dave follows to the conclusion of Death at Gills Rock has a multitude of twists, turns, and backstories plus multiple confessions. The reader needs to stay alert in order to keep up, and, in the end, may wonder if the outcome is believable or right. Actually, Sheriff Dave has some of the same concerns. His debut as the real sheriff will give mystery lovers food for thought along with the pleasure of reading a well-crafted book.
June 2015, Terrace Books
$26.95, hardcover, 248 pages
—Reviewed by Betty Nicholas