CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 13 . . . . December 1, 2017
Readers first met Anthony "Tony" Shepherd and Charlie Wolfe in Along Comes a Wolfe in which the pair solved a series of murders in which the victims were teen girls, one being Tony's girlfriend. Timewise, the action in Shepherd's Watch occurs during the summer following the events of the first volume of the "Shepherd & Wolfe Mystery" series, and the new setting is the Shepherds' lake cottage, some five hours away from their city home. Counios and Gane again do not begin their mystery novel with their two central characters. In Along Comes a Wolfe, readers were first introduced to the serial killer in a prologue, but in Shepherd's Watch, it is the first of the novel's victims that readers meet, also via a prologue. Low level part-time drug dealer Terry Butler is having a very bad day; first he is fired from his day job, then his girlfriend dumps him just as he's about to propose, and finally a drunken Terry lacks the monies needed to pay off his supplier. And just to top his day off, Terry is murdered. At the point of Terry's death, the authors create the literary equivalent of a magician's legerdemain, and their clever deception will likely leave readers (incorrectly) believing they know the identity of Terry's killer, Cousin Rachel. Cousin Rachel is the alias this woman has adopted to conceal her real mother/house wife identity as she heads up the area's drug trade. As Cousin Rachel ties up local "loose ends", readers quickly come to recognize that Cousin Rachel is absolutely ruthless and will go to any length to maintain her anonymity.
At the point at which Charlie Wolfe unexpectedly appears at the Shepherds' cottage (see excerpt), Terry Butler is simply missing, and, because his abandoned boat was found on the lake, he is presumed to have drowned. Charlie, upon learning about Terry's probable death, decides that he and Tony should search for the body. However, when Tony takes Charlie sightseeing in the bush, the Shepherds' family dog uncovers Terry's decomposing body in a shallow grave close by the lake. With "missing" being replaced by "murdered", Charlie, dragging Tony along with him, is "on the case", spurred on by the knowledge that a local photographer has also recently disappeared.
In Part 3 of this four-part novel, Counios and Gane take the plot in a new and surprising direction as the real murderer is identified and the fate of a child who has been missing since 1996 becomes a significant part of the plot. Parts 3 and 4 are action-filled, and the book's conclusion sees Charlie in hospital, having been grievously wounded. The book's epilogue, narrated from Cousin Rachel's perspective, adds an ominous note as she seems to be "interested" in Charlie - a hint of the plot of the next book to come?
Shepherd's Watch works well as a stand-alone read, but those who have read Along Comes a Wolfe will recognize the passing references to events that occurred in the earlier novel. And Detective Gekas, who played an important role in the opening novel in the series, makes a number of cameo appearances in the current novel, including a most important one near the book's conclusion. Those who were hoping to learn more about Charlie's past are offered a few morsels by the authors, including—perhaps—a passing glimpse of Charlie's mother at his hospital room.
Significantly longer than the typical YA "detective" story, Shepherd's Watch is, nevertheless, a most engaging read. Fans of the series will eagerly await the next installment.
Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.