This Fallen Prey, Kelley Armstrong
reviewed in the Ottawa Review of Books, March 2018
The meaning behind the title of Kelley Armstrong’s latest Rockton crime novel, This Fallen Prey, still alludes me. Does This Fallen Prey refer to the victims of the serial killer who is dropped off bound and gagged without warning? There are several victims in this fast-paced thriller. Or is the thrill killer, himself, This Fallen Prey? Oliver Brady claims to be the victim of a rich and powerful step-father bent on cheating him out of his inheritance. Gregory Wallace has $15 million reasons to frame his step-son as a serial killer, and has paid a million dollars to send him to Rockton for a six-month stint. The problem for our heroes, Sheriff Eric Dalton and Detective Casey Butler, is what to do with Brady while he’s there under their watch. Once the townsfolk discover they’re housing a psychotic serial killer no one will be safe, including Brady.
This is Armstrong’s third Casey Butler detective novel. It is as fast and flawless as City of the Lost, the book that introduces us to this dysfunctional Yukon town. Rockton is a fabricated town, built in the wilderness to house people who need to go missing. Many are victims in need of protection; others, like Casey, have been both victimized and killed. In the second book, A Darkness Absolute, Casey seals the deal with rugged backwoods sheriff, Eric Dalton, and becomes mama to a bouncing Newfoundland puppy named Storm.
In fact, the dog, who is now eight-months-old and learning to track, is a major character in the novel, as is the setting. Much of the story centres around the search for Oliver Brady, who escapes early on with the help of one of Rockton’s citizens. Casey and Dalton must battle hostiles and wild animals, while avoiding snipers; all the while, trying to keep the puppy safe. Anyone who owns a dog will understand what it’s like to hike with a dog in the woods. Dangers lurk everywhere. And, Kelley Armstrong has done her canine research.
In my favourite scene, Storm lurches free of Casey’s grip and bounds after a mountain lion with the detective in pursuit. Casey chases, knowing that the cat is heading for a cliff where it can turn around, leap onto her dog’s back, and break her neck. Casey shouts out a series of commands—too many words and pointless—as Storm is too far away to hear and focussed on nothing but chasing this kitty. This creates sheer terror for Casey, who must somehow save her puppy, and any reader who has ever lost control of her dog. Like Casey, Storm is not just there for show. Armstrong not only uses the dog to heighten the adventure, but as a clever device to advance the plot.
This is Casey’s story. Though she’s searching along with her partner, Eric Dalton, everyone defers to her, including the sheriff. A tiny Mandarin-speaking murderer turned detective, Casey is fearless, intelligent, intuitive, and scarred. Sometimes, she makes mistakes, and sometimes she knows the truth with just a look. Preferring to sleep out on the balcony under the stars, Casey provides us with an opportunity to experience this secret dystopian Yukon town and its surrounding wildness.
As the search continues, Dalton and Casey discover corpses. By chapter forty, I write in my journal: Brady appears to be a ruthless murderer but there must be a twist. If there isn’t, I will be disappointed. Then Brady’s step-dad arrives and I’m not disappointed. By chapter sixty, I’m still wondering, along with Casey, if Brady is a serial killer, or if he really is being framed by his step-dad. He almost has me convinced. Is he, or isn’t he? How will Casey discover the truth? And who will die in the process?