After finding her boyfriend in bed with another woman, Rylie Cooper moves herself and her rescued Labrador, Fizzy, into her parents’ basement to hunt for a job. She hires on with Prairie City Parks & Recreation as a summer park ranger — a “summie” — and starts the season with insecure Shayla and brash Brock, along with arrogant perennial summie Nikki.
Just a few days into the job, Rylie and her boss, Ben, find a body caught in a fish trap in Muddy Creek Cove. Ronnie was locally famous for catching a record-breaking catfish, which just about everybody suspected he’d netted with an illegal trap just like the one in which his body was found. However, he swore he’d accomplished it honestly, with his rod and reel alone.
Ronnie’s death summons Rylie’s high school sweetheart, Luke Hannah, a Prairie City police officer in charge of the murder investigation. He agrees with the consensus that Ronnie was killed by Dave, an ill-tempered angler who was also his fiercest accuser, but Rylie isn’t comfortable with that verdict, especially when she finds notes on her Mustang’s windshield suggesting she search the cove at a specific time.
Throughout the investigation, Rylie struggles with her never-quite-dampened ardor for Luke, who proposed to her on graduation night. He was so hurt by her rejection that he hasn’t dated seriously since. Although it’s clear the flames still burn between them, Luke refuses to be Rylie’s rebound, and that stings.
Struggling to deal with that rejection is what brings Rylie to the cove one night, where she spots a dark-clad mystery man climbing the fence to reach the closed cove. The sighting prompts her to volunteer for overnight patrol, but she’s not prepared to accept who’s behind the murder and trapping in Muddy Creek Cove.
Stella Bixby has written an engaging first-in-series mystery with a lead character who ventures beyond the typical female sleuth. Rylie is a misfit, but she’s an interesting heroine and a great detective. Catfished is an engaging beginning to what promises to be a new branch of the mystery genre.