Travel writer Ryn Lowell likes to jog with her cat, Jack, on a harness, which is how she finds the body of Heather, a waitress who disappeared two days earlier from Alma’s Café, the only restaurant in Trout Fork, Colorado. Most everyone assumed she’d disappeared with one of the biker gangs that come to the tiny fishing hole, but someone local knows the secrets of her death.
Ryn shows up in the little town — “just four stores under one shingled roof at the intersection of two winding mountain roads” — in search of an interesting subject for her column, Out of My Way, and immediately realizes she’s found a true gem. Noting the Help Wanted sign at Alma’s, she agrees to sling hash while researching the town, which features a sour bait shop owner, an alcoholic liquor store keeper, an eccentric antique store proprietor, and the aforementioned Alma, a single mom who runs the café with her teenager daughter, Ashley. Amongst her customers is the Rev, otherwise known as Zach, a middle-aged Bible thumper who quotes scripture while passing judgment on all, and Garrett, a handsome cop from nearby Pineland Park, who’s assigned to investigate Heather’s murder, while becoming increasingly fond of Ryn. And lurking in the background is Dave Malone, a shady developer who’s pressing Alma to sell her property, an offer she consistently refuses.
Everyone seems to have a motive — happy private lives aren’t a feature of life in Trout Fork — and the heat amps up when a chemical spill upstream sends hundreds of dead fish through the town, then fire breaks out in the woods behind the cabins late one night, forcing everyone to flee in their pajamas. Finally, Ryn senses a threat in the darkness between the café and Alma’s cabin, which reveals itself when Ashley is kidnapped, and Ryn hastily assembles clues and suspicions in her attempt to save her from Heather’s fate.
Throughout the quest to solve the murder, Garrett and Ryn circle each other in a complex romantic spin, undeniably attracted but separated by an enormous emotional gulf. Death in Trout Fork is an emotional multiplex that, like life, has few neat & tidy moments, and that transforms it from an ordinary novel to a powerfully affecting mystery.