If you’re not from around here, you might think the best antidote to the dreary mid-winter days of Minnesota would be a novel set in sunny Hawaii or Cancun, an escape from the pale, wind-whipped landscape just outside the window. But you’d be wrong. True Midwesterners don’t really want to escape the harsh winters here, we take pride in surviving them. But we wouldn’t mind if they felt just a little more glamorous and exciting. _Silence of the Loons_ fills the bill perfectly.
A collection of mystery stories by thirteen Minnesota writers, _Silence of the Loons_ is a smorgasbord of crime, from pick-pocketing to murder. Four of its thirteen writers make up the Minnesota Crime Wave, the group of mystery writers who came up with the idea for this collection. The challenge they presented each contributor was to write a story using at least four of ten clues that Minnesota Crime Wave provided, and these mystery clues are an added bonus for the reader to spot across storylines. You can cheat and look in the back of the book for the list of clues, but it’s more fun to try to find all ten on your own. It may sound a bit gimmicky, but how can you resist the charm of a headless Barbie doll (the most popular clue, evidently) as she surfaces time after time?
Mystery is a delicate game of cat and mouse with a reader: the reader wants to feel smart and be given an opportunity to figure out whodunit, but doesn’t want the writer to make it too easy. And solving the crime shouldn’t be the only pleasure in reading a mystery. Luckily, this collection is rich with Midwestern characters and settings that compel the reader forward. Carl Brookins’ “A Winter’s Tale” is set during a snowstorm reminiscent of the School Children’s Blizzard of 1888, and it’s hard to know which is more sinister—the weather or the creepy main character who takes in a stranded stranger. M.D. Lake successfully juggles a full cast of distinct, funny characters in “Holiday Murder at Harmony Place,” about a murder at an assisted living community.
Some of the humor might be a bit insular, as in the case of one teenaged character’s snide description of another teenaged girl as “Princess Kay of the Milky Way” in Mary Logue’s “Loon Lodge,” but even non-Midwesterners will appreciate the dire warning of Ellen Hart’s “Norwegian Noir” against the sin of “Getting the Big Head.”
There are a couple of surprises in _Silence of the Loons_ that aren’t mysteries per se, but serve to enrich the collection. Judith Guest’s “The Gates” would be better described as dystopian science fiction that takes the not-in-my-backyard mentality of a particular Twin Cities suburb to a Twilight Zone extreme. Lori Lake’s “Take Me Out” is the other surprise, in its emotional depth and sensitive exploration of assisted suicide portrayed between a retired schoolteacher and her former student who’s now a housekeeper at the senior center where the elderly teacher is slowly dying.
Some of the endings feel a bit forced, as in David Housewright’s “A Domestic Matter” and K.J. Erickson’s “Mickey’s Last Mark,” but the stories are still engaging and entertaining. The only real dud in the collection is Kerri Miller’s “Confidential Sources.” Miller is an excellent radio host on Minnesota Public Radio, but her fiction lacks a certain credibility. The events of the story feel implausible and none of her characters are sympathetic, making it difficult for the reader to care what happens to them.
Overall, _Silence of the Loons_ is an excellent showcase of Minnesota crime-writing talent. The good news for readers is that most of these writers have published several novels as well, so this book can lead you to many more—probably enough to get through the long winter.
_Carrie Mercer is a freelance writer and artist living in Minneapolis. She has an MFA from Hamline University and is currently learning to ice skate. Read her blog at “www.findingjimmy.blogspot.com”:http://www.findingjimmy.blogspot.com or reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org._
*The Silence of the Loons: Thirteen Tales of Mystery by Minnesota’s Premier Crime Writers, Ed. Minnesota Crime Wave (Nodin Press)*