There is nothing like curling up with a good mystery book to help you through a bad winter in the Adirondacks. Lucky for me, Ann Melious chose this winter to publish her first book, “Out Like a Lion.”
Forget rapid drops in temperature or moose during the rut. The most dangerous thing in the Adirondack woods is an angry mom in this semi-cozy thriller, available only for e-readers.
Sherlock Holmes is a deductive reasoning whiz, Dexter Morgan thinks like a psychopath because he is one himself, and Calista Cornell, the sleuth in “Out Like a Lion” uses hyperosmia, a heightened sense of smell, to sniff out clues.
Calista moves to the Adirondack Mountains with her two toddlers to accept a job at an environmental education center. There’s been an ugly divorce (are there really a lot of cordial ones?) and she is happy to have found a home and a daycare provider, Elaine, who has become a good friend. The long winter and small-town atmosphere of Saranac Lake are not a cultural shock for Calista, who was raised on an upstate farm and has the resultant self-sufficiency.
When her three year-old daughter has a shocking experience with a gun, Calista confronts Elaine’s mother, Desi, who appears to have a whole armory in her truck. Calista later learns that Desi and her children were present when a sniper shot and killed their husband and father, an abortion provider. The son, Daniel, is so damaged that he doesn’t function without drugs of one kind or another. Despite this, Calista finds him sporadically attractive. Actually, the protagonist finds almost all men attractive.
When Desi disappears into the wilderness of the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park, Calista questions whether it is a suicide attempt or something else. As she tries to learn more, using her skills as a journalist and ultimately, her nose, she faces bullets and a blow-down, pisses off the state police, and becomes a grudging covert operative of a militant pro-choice organization. She doesn’t anticipate helping a friend and stretching her intellectual muscles will ultimately put her children in danger.
Melious weaves together a fascinating range of plot elements and personalities. Some of the observations are laugh-out-loud funny, like the urban visitor who says the Adirondacks smell funny. “That’s because the air’s clean.” The characterizations of both people and the park are quirky but on target. The author has guest blogged here and knows her way around the Adirondack Mountains. She moved to this wild region of northern New York with two toddlers to work at the former Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers. She speaks fluent Adirondack and single mom-ese. I give this book five pine trees out of five; it is a great read.
I am looking forward to the next Calista in the Wilderness mystery, but I don’t need another bad Adirondack winter to enjoy it.