This is the second installment in the Shana Merchant detective series, and while it was extremely different from the first book, I enjoyed this one just as much!
After leaving the NYPD following her abduction by serial killer Blake Bram, Shana Merchant hoped for a fresh start in the Thousand Islands of Upstate New York. Her former tormentor has other plans. Shana and Bram share more than just a hometown, and he won’t let her forget it. When the decades-old skeleton of Shana’s estranged uncle is uncovered, Bram issues a challenge: Return home to Vermont and solve the cold case, or the blood he spills next will be on her hands.
As Shana interviews members of her family and the community, mining for secrets that could help her solve her uncle’s murder, she begins to realize how little she remembers of her childhood. And when Bram grows impatient and kidnaps again, leaving a trail of clues Shana alone can understand, she knows his new victim will only survive if she wins the psychopath’s twisted game. In order to solve one mystery, Shana must wade into her murky past to unravel another.
I think the best way to come at this review is to tie in the first book in this series Death in the Family. In Death, Shana and Tim head to a remote island in New York’s Thousand Island region to investigate a murder in the only house on the island. The family who lives there have gathered for a reunion, and one of the members turns up missing under suspicious circumstances. A locked room type mystery, inspired by Agatha Christies’ And Then There Were None, I extremely enjoyed it, and also felt similar vibes to the movie Knives Out (but without the humor).
So why the need to mention Death in the Family first? There’s a good answer for that: Shana is suffering from PTSD during that novel, from an abduction shortly before the investigation. Her PTSD symptoms flare in the isolated setting and she makes some poor choices during the investigation but is thankfully rescued by her colleague Tim.
The circumstances of Shana’s abduction are only hinted at in Death, but in The Dead Season, they are addressed head on. In this second novel, Shana is on leave in order to recuperate her mental state. When she gets news that the remains of her long lost uncle are recovered in her hometown, she makes the drive back home to help the local police investigate. However, she quickly realizes that her abductor, who was never caught, has lured her there to toy with her.
I absolutely loved this set up! A more traditional approach would be to start a series learning about the main detective, but I loved that Wegert set up a little mystery surrounding Shanna first, and didn’t reveal her dark past until the second book. Some of the best detective novels have strong, stoic characters whose troubled pasts always make them better at their jobs. This series does just that, and after just two books in the series, I am fully vested!
In The Dead Season, all the characters in Shana’s hometown are examined as possible suspects, and I feel that this was really well by Wegert. Rather than introduce one character after another to the point where the reader can’t keep them straight, she introduces just one or two at a time and weaves them into the story seamlessly. I honestly didn’t know who to suspect and was surprised to find out who really had killed Shana’s uncle 20 years before.
I highly recommend this series and cannot wait to see where it goes from here! But a fair warning: The Dead Season ends in a major cliffhanger! Happy reading!