Sean Doolittle is one of my favorite authors, one of the guys whose work brought me back into crime fiction after a few years away in high school and early college. No other writer in the genre does what he does, to the point that it’s difficult to discuss what sets him apart. His prose is far from flashy but nor is it terribly spare – it’s just…good. His plots are character-driven and organic but they’re also full of incident, violence – all the shit you want in a crime novel. But what probably makes his books stick out the most in my mind is his hugely complex characters, and in Lake Country you’re given a truckload of great ones.
The book primarily follows two people as they search for a kidnapped girl and hopefully by the end find something like redemption as well. Mike Barlowe is after the girl because he thinks that she was taken by his army buddy who has gone off the rails and he fears his friend will be harmed if he doesn’t get there in time. Twin Cities broadcast television field reporter Maya Lamb is after the girl for the story but also due to a complex personal attachment to her. Hopefully the two can make it up to the Brainerd area where she’s been taken before the girl is killed or a ruthless bounty hunter gets there first…
It quickly become apparent that this story is going to unfold over one night, giving the novel something of a ticking clock-level of tension. The formidable bad guy and police involvement keep the stakes high and the novel jumps around from character to character often enough to keep shit punchy, surprising. But, like the Nerd was talking about up top, it’s all about the characters with this beast.
Mike Barlowe’s life was saved by Daryl Potter, the vet who took the girl, when they were serving together over in Iraq. Mike hasn’t exactly set the world on fire since coming stateside, mainly working shit jobs and often having trouble making the rent, but he’s certainly gotten along better than Potter, whose time away from war has only made him more crazy. When the two are at their local watering hole and a news report comes on the television discussing the fifth anniversary of the car accident death of Becky Morse, Mike can smell trouble.
Morse was the sister of a guy they served with, a guy who died hours after hearing of his sister’s accident. Not long after that the patriarch of the Morse family called it quits, leaving Mrs. Morse a childless widow. When the daughter of the other driver goes missing the next day, Mike knows who did it, initials definitely D and P, but out of loyalty to his friend, his batshit crazy and misunderstood friend, he sets out to find him alone.
The Morse story was Maya Lamb’s first job when she came on board the Minnesota news team, the tragedy a big break for her career at the time. But as she ghoulishly marks the anniversary with another perfunctory story, she’s less jazzed about it than she once was. She didn’t imagine herself being on this side of thirty and still in a middle market like the Twin Cities, and she sure as shit didn’t think she’d still have to exploit people’s misery face-to-face for this long. Her dissatisfaction with where she’s ended up has lately lead to a steady diet of gin, and when Juliet Benson, the daughter of the driver at fault in the Morse accident goes missing mere hours after she talked to her for the anniversary story, Maya starts feeling like she can’t take another unhappy ending.
You won’t get too far into Lake Country before you’re pulling for these two wonderfully human creations like they’re you’re best friends. And once you’ve made it through Sean Doolittle’s latest, no matter how sweaty or drained you might be when you get there, the Nerd guarantees you’ll feel like you’ve read one of the most truly satisfying novels of the year.