Lone Jack Trail by Owen Laukkanen


Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin


What do you do when your new lover is accused of murder and you’re not really sure of his guilt or innocence? The evidence against ex-convict Mason Burke may be circumstantial, but it’s so compelling even Deputy Jess Winslow doubts her lover’s innocence.


In the captivating sequel to Deception Cove, Burke and Winslow barely have time to take a breath before a body washes up on the Pacific shore. The Victim: Bad Boyd. A local celebrity who played pro hockey, Boyd isn’t just bad, he’s wicked. This heinous bully has fought, terrorized, and murdered dogs over the years, and he’s destroyed people. All for his sadistic pleasure. Still, he’s never been caught. Until now.


The Accused: loveable, dependable Mason Burke. With his fifteen-year stint in the Chippewa penitentiary for murder barely behind him, Burke is the last person seen with Bad Boyd. And they were fighting. Mason loves his pit bull. Boyd killed pit bulls. The altercation was inevitable.


With their newfound love belching puffs of mistrust and doubt, this high octane thriller tests the limits for both Burke and Winslow. Should he turn himself in or abandon his little family and run for it? And who will find the real killer with Burke in jail? Worse, if he runs, he’ll lose everyone he loves.

Lone Jack Trail sees us traversing more epic West Coast terrain. It’s obvious Laukkanen’s travelled these trails. His 3D sensory descriptions take us there. The small coastal town of Deception Cove is a familiar spot, but the surrounding wilderness is a dangerous haven for meth cookers and killers.

Laukkanen’s writing is emphatic but precise and controlled, though his feelings fleck the surface like fish for flies. When Burke visits Bad Boyd’s vacated dog-fighting barn, I thought I might have to skip a few pages. There are things I can’t read and don’t want to know. But even something so close to Laukkanen’s heart as animal cruelty is treated delicately and we feel Burke’s pain (and Laukkanen’s) in the spaces between.

What draws me to Laukkanen’s writing besides his engrossing narrative style is his ability to write ordinary heroes doing extraordinary things. Burke’s clever young sidekick, Chris Rengo, is a homeless former meth cooker, but he often comes up with the right information at the right time. Deputy Tyner Gillies, named for a real live police sergeant and author, is fearless — a warrior and one of the good guys in a town known for corrupt cops. And then there’s Jess Winslow and Lucy. Jess is an ex-Marine suffering from PTSD and her service dog, Lucy, is based on Laukkanen’s own rescued pit bull. Lucy is as much a hero as anyone in this cast of eccentric characters.


In the exhilarating climax on Lone Jack Trail, we discover just how much of a team these three are — Burke, Winslow, and Lucy, the dog. With its satisfying ending, Lone Jack Trail will leave you smiling and wanting more in this series.


Lone Jack Trail is published by Mulholland Books.

W. L. Hawkin writes the Hollystone Mysteries (bluehavenpress.com)


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