Bookmonger: Portland author's second whodunit beats the heat

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 17, 2014 

Are you a serial reader, or do you have several books going at the same time? I belong to the latter camp, and when it gets too hot to do anything else, I find a patch of shade and read through my stash - this week it included a candy industry exposé, the history of an anarchist utopia, a book on climate change, and "Dead Float," the second in what is apparently becoming the Cal Claxton murder mystery series by Portland novelist Warren C. Easley.

At one time, Claxton had been a high-powered Los Angeles prosecutor. But after his wife's suicide, he pulled up stakes and relocated to Oregon's wine country to open a small law practice. On the side, he helps out whenever his buddy Philip Lone Deer needs an extra pair of hands for his fishing guide business.

All of this has been an attempt to slow down and appreciate life more, although now that Claxton's grown daughter, Claire, has interrupted her graduate studies to go dig wells in war-torn Darfur, he finds his stress level rising. He won't stop her from doing something she feels compelled to do. But that doesn't mean he can keep from worrying about his only child working in one of the most dangerous places on earth, particularly when she is overdue in checking in with him as promised.

So when his friend Phil asks Claxton to assist with a group of high tech execs coming in for a team building exercise while fishing the salmon fly hatch on the Deschutes River, he is grateful for the distraction.

It turns out to be an even bigger distraction than he anticipated when he realizes that the company CEO is bringing along his wife - a woman Claxton had had an affair with a year earlier.

And that, in turn, is nothing compared to the brouhaha that erupts when the CEO is murdered during the first night in camp. Circumstantial evidence points to Claxton as the chief suspect, although the small town cops investigating the case don't have enough on him yet to make an arrest.

Claxton desperately undertakes some sleuthing of his own in the hope that he can uncover other motivations - and suspects - for the murder.

In the meantime, the news from Sudan is not good - Claire's group has been waylaid by militants.

Easley knows how to write page-turning suspense. He also does a nice job of describing the art and romance of fly-fishing, as well as the succulence of Claxton's bachelor cooking.

Character development could use more work, however - as the central figure, Claxton inserts himself into enough ill considered situations that the reader may become disgusted with his poor judgment. Fortunately for the forward momentum of the plot, Claxton's sidekicks are more forgiving, and remarkably available to help him out of his scrapes.

"Dead Float" is a quick read - OK for beating the heat.

But I'll close with one grumpy schoolmarm note: Whoever oversaw the punctuation overlooked a lot.

FIND THE BOOK

"Dead Float," by Warren C. Easley

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.

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