“In the Clearing” brings us the fourth installment in Robert Dugoni’s series featuring Tracy Crosswaite, former high school teacher, now detective for the Seattle, Washington, Police Department.
A Seattle murder case is not what it seems at first, but just when the players trip over themselves to change stories and point fingers, Tracy is approached by a former colleague to help solve a cold case elsewhere that the woman’s father had worked on as a rookie cop. A young Native American girl disappeared on the walk home from work, then was found dead in a nearby stream. The case was considered solved and closed at the time, but when the father died, his case notes were found by the daughter. She is sure that he kept the case notes for a reason. Was justice done? Was there a cover up? Why did her dad care?
Tracy is skeptical that anything new can be found after forty years, but agrees to take a quick look and report back, no matter what the outcome. The closer she gets to the answers, the more her own life is placed in danger.
The cold case is a fascinating one, involving tension between Native Americans and local townspeople, the importance of that in small town culture, and the way in which modern forensic techniques can uncover old truths. This is a Dugoni novel, after all, and “In the Clearing” studies changing values and the way in which certain crimes are viewed and handled differently today.
The problem with 40-year-old cases is the lack of fresh physical evidence remaining, particularly when the crime occurs outside, and is affected by the elements. Crosswaite must rely on old photos and the testimony of any still living eyewitnesses. Forensic experts are called in to take a fresh look at the existing information – what remains or can be reconstructed. A character from an earlier book visits to give her astute opinions – an appealing fit as a recurring character. Dugoni’s descriptions of the re-enacted crime are chilling and WOW, do we want to get the guy that did the deed.
We can always count on Dugoni to create interesting characters, and “In the Clearing” includes familiar, fully fleshed out cops from the Seattle PD for the present day case, as well as multi-layered local people for the cold case. Crosswaite, is herself a complex law enforcement character and her romantic interest, Dan, introduced in “My Sister’s Grave,” is intelligent, likable, suitably matched and we root for this couple to continue.
Dugoni gives us a look at the challenges women continue to face when becoming part of any law enforcement agency. It isn’t enough for a woman to be average. One has to be better in shooting scores and in cases solved, tougher with no emotion shown in front of co-workers. Otherwise the men seem to discount the contribution. It is not an easy life, when starting as a patrol officer, working all shifts, paired with men who have suspicious wives, spending 8-12 hours a day with a partner.
The cold case reveals that brutality and motivation behind the search for power and greed has never changed – just the players in the unfolding pain. “In the Clearing” contains several scenes and troubled characters that demonstrate how crippling that single-mindedness can be.
Read my review of “My Sister’s Grave,” the first full novel in the series, here.
Take a look at Dugoni’s David Sloane series with this review of “The Conviction,” here.
Please visit www.robertdugoni.com for information about Mr. Dugoni’s other work, future appearances, and the excellent classes he conducts.