Good-natured protagonist Charley Cove returns in Tony Latham’s second fictional work, “Seven Dead Fish.” After the harrowing events of “Five Fingers,” Cove is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and just wants to get back to his regular duties as an Idaho game warden.
When he is called to a crime scene by small-town sheriff Fred Mendiola, Cove instead finds himself embroiled in a homicide investigation with a mysterious — and vicious — killer on the loose. At the same time, Cove struggles to explain the dead fish appearing in Morgan Creek. He has a range of theories, from natural illness to illegal mining, but nothing can prepare him for the level of danger he will encounter as he searches for answers.
If readers had to guess at Latham’s former career, they would likely choose game warden — and they would be correct. This authenticity infuses Latham’s works. In “Seven Dead Fish,” Latham continues to do what he does well, developing relatable and enjoyable characters, describing forensic investigation in interesting and convincing detail, and setting it all against the breathtaking beauty of the Central Idaho landscape.
Rather than feeling like a character, Charley Cove feels like someone you would want to sit down and have a cup of coffee with.
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The antagonistic district attorney who ruffles Cove’s feathers is not a villainous caricature. He is the disagreeable, slightly racist guy at the office that everyone has encountered. Even the bloodthirsty suspect Cove is hunting feels ripped from the headlines rather than a horror film.
In a similar fashion, the descriptions of forensic investigation display greater realism than one finds in the average police procedural. Samples have to be sent to labs in other cities. Those labs have backlogs that prevent animal cases from preceding human cases. Not all evidence holds up in court.
Readers who have wished the camera would pan away from the pithy but seemingly incompetent star-detective to the technician behind him actually doing the work will find Latham’s writing rigorous and engaging.
Of course, perhaps the greatest star of the novel is the setting. Latham seems to have a genuine love for the region that permeates his descriptions. From Main Street in Challis to the Pahsimeroi Valley nearby, readers will find themselves transported to an honest depiction of rural life. Latham does not fall into the over-romanticism common to these types of settings but instead demonstrates a true appreciation for the upsides and downsides of a small town.
Delving further into Cove’s Salish heritage in “Seven Dead Fish,” Latham also provides a unique cultural perspective that touches on the enduring nature of Cove’s ancestry and the land where he lives. “He could see no roads. No buildings. No farmer’s fields or power lines. No sign of man, other than the stone knife he held and the clothes he wore. The view hadn’t changed since his last visit. It hadn’t changed in hundreds, or more likely, thousands of years.”
It is a pleasure to see Latham continue to mature and gain more polish as a writer. Some may find the ending a bit hasty and the same forensic scenes that can be so enjoyable occasionally run a few sentences too long, but fans of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett or Paul Doiron’s Mike Bowditch will find Charley Cove a welcome member of the game warden mystery club.
Though “Seven Dead Fish” could stand alone, readers are encouraged to read “Five Fingers” first as the context between novels will improve the experience.
Both titles are highly recommended for any regional library’s local author collection.
Heather Grevatt is an assistant professor and librarian for Boise State University’s Albertsons Library.
“Seven Dead Fish” by Tony Latham; CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform ($14.99)
“‘What ya got?’ His heart was still pounding from the dream. ‘I’m not sure. I need you to come look at a boot we found’…‘Did you say ‘boot’?”