Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
In the sixth installment of the Rockton series, Kelley Armstrong takes us back to the town’s beginnings, so much so that I felt regrettably this might be the end. Her website says otherwise. Since she is contracted for seven books, the series “will be at least that long,” Armstrong assures us. Still, there is a lingering sense of finality at the conclusion of this book that gives me a pang of sadness. I’ve loved this series since the beginning.
The discovery of an injured stranger, who only speaks some Germanic language, heralds an investigation into the genesis of Rockton, the outlying settlements, and the hostiles. For those new to Rockton, Armstrong spends the first few chapters reminding us where we are—a strange, somewhat violent town in the Yukon where people apply to live so they can disappear from insurmountable problems in the outside world. This means your neighbours might be killers or victims or just on the run from mistakes and wanting a new start. Rockton is off the radar and puppeted by a council who live outside it, with one rep or spy who usually lives in it.
Casey Duncan, the series protagonist, is a detective. Sheriff Dalton is her mountain man partner, and her sister, April is the town’s autistic physician. Casey’s young Newfoundland dog, Storm, provides comic relief and also is an amazing tracker, something this team needs because someone is always disappearing into the bush.
These books are written with an overarching sense of intelligence. The concept of the hidden Yukon town is clever, but as Armstrong reveals more information as to its genesis through the wily detective, we see a blossoming brilliance in this cold northern darkness. Casey Duncan narrates in the present tense, first-person point-of-view, and we are given ample entrance into her thoughts as she struggles to solve the mystery of the injured stranger and what it might mean to the town and its inhabitants. With that, we learn Casey’s theory of how the hostiles evolved from a splinter group from the second settlement—a settlement that had broken free of the town of Rockton. And so we see these factions which are not so much classes as cultures who strive to navigate “an endless balance of debt and obligation.”
Outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate the riveting action and adventure scenes where Casey and Dalton negotiate with grizzlies, wild boar, wolves, and all the Yukon wilderness has to offer. There is scarcely a moment to eat or sleep or put the book down. No one is who they appear to be, including the injured stranger.
A Stranger in Town is published by Minotaur Books.