Warren C. Easley,
Dead Float: A Cal Claxton Mystery
(Poisoned Pen, 2014)

Dead Float is the best mystery I've read in a good, long time. It's both compelling and satisfying. I recommend it to any mystery fan of any ilk.

I'm an avid mystery reader who still mourns the loss of New England authors William G. Tapply (2009) and Philip R. Craig (2007). But if you start with Bill's Boston lawyer Brady Coyne, add elements of his Maine fishing guide Stoney Calhoun, mix them together with Phil's Vineyard investigator J.W. Jackson, then carry them across the country to Oregon, you come pretty close to meeting Warren Easley's protagonist, Cal Claxton. The characters would have all gotten along, that's for sure. Too bad they can't spend some time fishing together. Or maybe they can....

Cal Claxton used to work as a prosecutor down in stressful Los Angeles. Now he is a widower who has relocated to rural Oregon, where he divides his time between small-town lawyering and fly-fishing. It's a pretty good way to spend one's days. Until Cal and his friend Philip Lone Deer take a group of businessmen out on the Deschutes River to fish for trout. One of the execs doesn't wake up the next morning. He's got a good excuse: his throat has been cut. A nasty business, that. And he's the head of the company, to boot. Now all of the rest of his colleagues and fellow campers are prime suspects ... including Cal, who happens to have once had a tete-a-tete with the deceased's wife. Oops! And Cal's fishing vest and unique knife are now missing, too. The latter could even be a candidate for the murder weapon. Oops again!

Cal launches his own investigation of the murder. He never suspects that he'll have to also tiptoe around a few of the local authorities (i.e., thugs) who believe that verbal abuse and brutality are a vital part of a policeman's job description. Oops yet again! Cal gets beaten up almost as often as Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone does. Can he finally finger the true perp before the law literally comes crashing down upon his own head?

And this mystery and murder rap are not even Cal's only concerns. At the same time, his daughter Claire has traveled to Sudan to do charity work. Word soon comes that her work party has been detained by terrorists. Claire may have ended up with at least a broken leg and will have to come back home somehow. What more could go wrong?

Easley's easy writing style and use of short chapters move the story along quickly. Toward the end, you may have to tell yourself to remember to breathe.

I hope I've convinced you that Dead Float is a worthy commitment for your precious reading time. It won't take too long to finish and enjoy, I promise. I just submitted an interlibrary loan request for Easley's first Cal Claxton novel, Matters of Doubt. After I catch up with that one, I know I'll have to wait patiently for the publication of the third episode, due to be called An Indecent Burial. This is a series I want to keep track of. Give it a try yourself.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Corinne H. Smith

20 September 2014

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