The Mountaintop Murders

Ryn Lowell is in Fairplay, Colorado writing about a dude ranch for her travel column, Out of the Way, when she gets a frantic call from Alma — Sarge has been killed and Hank Edwards is charged with his murder. Knowing Hank’s not a killer, Ryn rushes back to Trout Fork to finds him in a dank basement cell with no memory of the killing, the retired Marine’s corpse with crushed fingers, and a drug ring and protection scam running rampant in Pineland Park.

Determined to solve Sarge’s murders and free Hank, Ryn is surprised Detective Garrett Easterbrook, with whom she has an off-and-on romance, hasn’t been assigned to the case. It turns out the police chief has assigned him to a sensitive case in Pineland Park, while Detective Marvin Sloan, a good officer who’s routinely underestimated due to his disheveled appearance and considerable gut, is handling Sarge’s murder, although he welcomes Garrett’s help.

However, Ryn’s return brings Garrett back to Trout Fork where, while searching Sarge’s campsite, he finds another body buried just over the hill. It’s a busboy from an Italian restaurant in Pineland Park, who had complained to Garrett about his boss’s coercion into a protection racket run by a dirty cop.

In the midst of all this activity, Ryn’s boss, Mr. Crenshaw, calls to inquire as to her whereabouts and is furious to find her in Trout Fork. When she tells him she can’t immediately depart for a story in Boulder, he fires her. She picks up waitressing for Alma again, but worries about her future while continuing her search for Sarge’s killer.

Through a friend at the Veterans Administration, Garrett discovers that three of the four men in Sarge’s Marine squad have been murdered, and all the deaths had two grisly elements in common: the fingers on both hands were crushed postmortem, and each was murdered on the same day in successive years. The last post they served together was the evacuation of Saigon in 1975, where overloaded helicopters flew refugees from the American embassy to ships offshore, but didn’t have enough time or equipment to save everyone before the Vietcong overtook the embassy. The Trout Fork poker group connects enough dots to produce a suspect, but the revelation proves unnerving.

D.M. O’Byrne has written a suspenseful follow-up more than deserving of Death in Trout Fork, and combined with the seamless continuation of life in the little crossroads, readers are left waiting with bated breath for the next installment.