I received an advance copy of this book from the author’s mailing list.
The Clearing by Patrick Kanouse starts out as a clear-cut mystery. Who shot William (Billy) Nimitz in cold blood execution-style on a winter night in Zion, a small town very close to the Canadian border? The shooting is described in chapter one. After following a series of mysteries related to different crimes, I found it interesting to read chapter one again after finishing the novel.
On the path to investigating Billy’s killer, Lt. (Detective) Dean Wallace will make several adjustments in his life as he strives to come to terms with small town Zion life. It is one of those small towns everyone wants to leave but realizes as they hit middle age they have for some reason come back to. In Dean’s case, alcohol abuse led to his failure as a big city cop. Only the luck of having his father as Zion’s Chief of Police allowed him to continue a law enforcement career. A former homicide cop, he felt prepared for the job of finding Billy’s killer. Readers will follow a path littered with many stories before solving the mystery.
Other than losing his former job due to alcohol, Dean had lost his wife and daughter through a divorce. Daughter Jenny loved dad and ex-wife Cindy was agreeable to lengthy visits with Dean. But Cindy was gone for good; she couldn’t put up with Dean’s struggles to recover from Vietnam war experiences. With character Dean, we already have three stories. His family life provides a few more. Police Chief and father Eric is strict, gruff and controlling. Dean’s brother Nolan was killed in Vietnam while brother Tony avoided it by pursuing deferments. Eric shunned Tony, Tony avoided Dean and family tensions provide another story.
Outside the family, it seems Zion has a drug problem. It is one of those “everyone knows” who is doing, producing, and distributing drugs but there is no proof. The acceptance of the situation simmers just below polite social daily interactions of the Zion citizenry. It is possible that drugs are not from a single source which leads to more stories about gang violence. There are hints of official corruption.
There are a lot of stories that Patrick Kanouse ties together well as he arrives at a fairly surprising ending. Along the way, there seem to be a few afterthoughts thrown in. There is a kind-hearted hooker who was necessary for one plot element to work. For the first half of the novel, I believe there was an excessive amount of unnecessary description about minutia. In one case there is a detailed description of how Josh (a suspect) bagged groceries where he worked. I found myself asking why I cared. This seemed to fall away in the second half.
This is a dense novel because of the number of stories but it is a comfortable read because it is straightforward storytelling. If you want to spend a few hours on a weekend with some good stories that support a central mystery, this novel will fill the bill.