Tag Archives: Door County

A Tangled Web in Door County

CBR_Logo2Death at Gills Rock
A Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery
by Patricia Skalka

“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.

skalka death gills rockDeath 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Author Patricia Skalka

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.

Four-Star Review

June 2015, Terrace Books
Fiction/Mystery
$26.95, hardcover, 248 pages
ISBN 978-0-299-30450-8

—Reviewed by Betty Nicholas

Read more about the book.

1 Comment

Filed under fiction

A Handy Guide That Hits the Highlights

CBR_Logo2Wisconsin’s Door County:
Moon Handbooks
by Thomas Huhti

Door County, Wisconsin, is sometimes called the Cape Cod of the Midwest, but it is smaller, less crowded, and less expensive. The Door is a popular vacation destination, with some two million visitors annually (compared to a permanent population of about 28,000) who mostly come during summer and early fall. Many of those vacationers travel from Chicagoland, which is just a four-hour drive away along the western shore of Lake Michigan.

cover_wisconsinsdoorcounty1eThe Moon travel guide to Door County is highly recommended. First-time visitors will get all the vital information they need to make the most of their time. For returning vacationers, the guide will remind them of all the sights and places they missed during past visits that they’ll want to catch next time.

Similar to a Frommer’s or a Fodor’s—neither of which offers a guide to Door County—Moon’s travel guide provides good, standard coverage of Door County and hits all the highlights of the area. The reader will get reliable, basic advice on sights, activities and recreation, food, lodging, getting around, and entertainment. The book is on target in emphasizing the county and state parks, which are truly outstanding, as well as the area’s iconic fish boils. The guide also gives a good serving of relevant history and culture.

IMG_9222

Door County at sunrise. (Photo by Patrick Ryan)

The glossy opening section provides a great overview of what to do and where to go. The closing part in back covers history, culture, climate, and geography. The back section also has the essentials of travel, information and services, and practical resources. The crescent moon logos for recommended sights, activities, dining, and lodging are very helpful. This handy guide, written by Wisconsin native Thomas Huhti, also includes maps and photographs.

Door County is charming and certainly merits a travel guide, but the Moon Door County travel guide is padded with extra sections on Milwaukee and the stretch north of Milwaukee to the Bottom of the Door and Green Bay. While the including the Bottom of the Door is worthwhile, the rest is mostly not useful unless visitors from Chicago want to stop off for a day in Milwaukee for a little sightseeing. It would have been nice if the guide covered a bit more of the (admittedly small) interior of Door County, along with a bit more on fruit picking, arts, and wineries. But these are minor quibbles in an overall truly handy guidebook.

Four-Star Review

February 2014, Avalon Travel
Travel
$14.99, paperback, 200 pages
ISBN: 9781612387536

—Reviewed by Stephen Isaacs

Learn more about the book and the author.

1 Comment

Filed under nonfiction

Trouble in Paradise

CBR_Logo2Death Stalks Door County:
A Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery
by Patricia Skalka

Paradise is a word often used in the same sentence as Door County, Wisconsin, by the natives as well as about two million yearly visitors. Author Patricia Skalka chose the beautiful Door Peninsula, serenely located between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, as the setting for her first mystery novel, Death Stalks Door County.

door county coverIn Skalka’s fictional world, the beginning of the tourist seasonthe major support of a healthy Door County economy—is marred by six bizarre deaths. The victims die in quite different ways. The initial inclination to think of them as a series of unusual but unconnected accidents gradually shifts to the feeling that a dangerous killer is at work. Dave Cubiak, a Chicago homicide detective who has just taken a position as a park ranger to help him work through his grief and feelings of personal guilt for the accidental deaths of his wife and daughter, is asked to investigate. Even though he believes foul play is probably involved, he has faced too much death recently and refuses the assignment. However, as the biggest festival of the season approaches and the possible danger to more people increases, Cubiak agrees to help the local police.

As he searches for clues, with the encouragement and help of important Door County leaders, it becomes difficult to know who can be trusted and who should be considered a suspect. The travel brochure landscape that is Door County conceals a tangled web of greed, betrayal, bitter rivalries, and lost love.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Author Patricia Skalka

Patricia Skalka captures the spirit and feeling of the area and its residents, and her descriptions of the atmosphere of the villages and spectacular scenery will resonate with readers who have spent time on the Door Peninsula. One of the reasons for this is that, although she lives in Chicago, Skalka has a vacation home in Door County and so has accumulated personal knowledge of her crime scenes. Another reason is that she is an experienced writer, having developed her skills through years as a freelance writer for Reader’s Digest and as a magazine editor, ghost writer, and writing instructor.

Although Skalka’s settings are well wrought, some of the plotting is not so neatly written. [Spoiler Alert!] It’s difficult not to wonder if the eventually unmasked killer could have committed all the murders alone. One of them was extra hard to believe. However, the author explains it all in a seemingly logical way. The surprising ending also fit the character of the killer as well as the setting for the story.

Death Stalks Door County is a good first novel and an interesting beginning for what we are told is the first in the Dave Cubiak mystery series. Skalka says she has already outlined four more books in the collection, published by the University of Wisconsin Press’s new imprint, Terrace Books. It’s also interesting to speculate about the reactions of the author’s vacation neighbors to the book’s alarming threats to their beloved Door County tourist industry. (Hey! It’s only make-believe—they’ll get used to it.) Patricia Skalka plans to continue disturbing the peace in Door County for quite a while, which should be a good thing for readers.

Four-Star Review

May 2014, Terrace Books/University of Wisconsin Press
Fiction/Mystery
$26.95, hardcover, 256 pages
ISBN: 978-0-299-29940-8

—Reviewed by Betty Nicholas

Learn more about the book.
Learn more about the publisher.

1 Comment

Filed under fiction