Set in a small town in Washington state and centering on the murder of a local, Dire Salvation by Charles B. Neff offers an entertaining read for mystery lovers. The story takes place in the town of Swiftwater and Portal. We follow the lives of several inhabitants over the course of two weeks, hour by hour. With each subsequent time change, we switch to a new character. It sounds more complicated than it is, but it is a nice literary trick for keeping the suspense taut and for burrowing into the lives of the individual characters. The murder may have involved a new designer drug called Salvation, the name relating to the plant salvia. Salvia, like peyote, produces strong hallucinatory feelings once consumed.
Implicated in the murder is one Lonny Ogden, a mentally disabled individual with a history of trouble with the law. He does occasional work at the Swiftwater Fish Hatchery and is Calla Ogden’s brother. Calla is a social worker and has to balance taking care of Lonny with the other cases she’s assigned. On the law enforcement side, there is Greg Takarchuk, a police officer, and the detectives Sam Espy and Bill McHugh. McHugh thinks Jason Ferris, a computer guru, may be a prime suspect in the murder, but he has only suspicions, not conclusive proof. Finally, there is Phil Bianchi, a former journalist, mayor of Swiftwater and Portal, and a recent widower. These disparate characters get thrown into a collision course as each seeks to divine who is behind this murder. Neff integrates the Native American stories of Calla and Lonny into the overall mystery, understanding that the key to unlocking the identity of the killer lay in their beliefs.
The combination of using the time stamp with rotating point of view characters and the small town Washington state location raise this novel about the garden-variety police procedural. This is the second book I’ve revewed for Bennett & Hastings and I continue to be impressed with the quality of fiction from this regional publisher. In a field where sameness sells, it’s great to see a publisher take a chance with this gifted storyteller.
Out of 10: 8.5,or 9.0 for mystery fans