The action in Lake Country takes place in Minnesota, my home state for the last 30+ years. Starting off in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area and moving “up north”, the landmarks and ordinary locations in Lake Country are a delight, so much of it based on real places and either real or pretty-darned-close-to-the-mark real entities. While I know that this in and of itself does not make for a good suspense story, taking such care bodes well.
Darryl Potter and Mike Barlowe met while serving as Marines in Iraq. Mike was shipped home when an RPG took out his knee, half his hearing in one ear and his peaceful nights; Darryl was the one that pulled him out of the ambush. Darryl got stateside later, limbs intact but without an honorable discharge. Times have not been easy for either man since their return to civilian life, but Darryl seemed to get the short end of the stick, floating between homes, jobs, ambitions (or lack thereof).
While pounding back beers one unremarkable Tuesday evening, the two watch a local news story on the five-year anniversary of the death of Becky Morse, a student who had died in a head on collision with an SUV driven by a prominent architect after he had nodded off behind the wheel. It had been a terrible accident, but no alcohol had been involved so the architect had gotten off with ten days served and five years probation. There had been rumblings of a new law to punish those operating a moving vehicle under the influence of “drowsy driving”, but those efforts had floundered: who can place a legal limit on fatigue?
There was a bigger story here for Mike and Darryl, though: Becky Morse’s brother had been in their unit in Iraq. Cleared to return to the States upon her death, Lance Corporal Evan Morse hitched a ride with a supply convoy headed back to the main base, but died when his Humvee hit a roadside IED. Their father made it through the funerals for his daughter and his son, then headed up north, paddled a canoe to the middle of a lake and shot himself.
In a perfect storm of resentment, lingering anger and a need to settle past scores, Darryl decides to exact his own measure of justice by kidnapping the architect’s 20 year old daughter (“Maybe it’s just me,” he said, “but it seems like the son of a bitch at least ought to know what it feels like before he gets to be done.”). But the situation spirals out of control, putting both himself and Mike – who had chased Darryl up to the lake country in an attempt to bring about a peaceful resolution – in desperate danger, not just from the authorities, but from a criminal element that had also been roped in by Darryl’s ill thought out plan.
Where this novel really shines is in how fast paced it is without sacrificing the story; nothing is pushed yet everything moves forward. The dialog is clever in the way real people are clever; the emotions are the ones that you and I struggle with. There are no stereotypes but there are recognizable players. There is no bloodbath, but the violence that occurs is devastating. There are heroes and there are villains, but everybody has warts of some kind, not the least of which is cowardice and not the worst of which is an inability to see beyond the moment because the pain of the moment just hurts too much.
Interestingly, as I read Lake Country, I slowed down as the climax of the book approached. Usually I rush towards built up conclusions, as if I can’t wait to find out the resolution. But in this case, I had become so vested in the characters that I was scared to read on – scared that the superb story I had enjoyed to that point would default to the typical orgiastic violent ending. I won’t spoil it for you – it was indeed devastating. But oh, so worth reading. Even if you aren’t from Minnesota.