If you haven’t started the “Rockton” series by Kelley Armstrong, you are missing out on a wonderful detective series with a setting that is unique and that makes each mystery in the series much more than a typical whodunit. “A Stranger in Town” is the sixth book in the series, and Casey and Eric, the detective and the sheriff in this Northern Canadian, off-the-grid town of Rocton, made up of people hiding from something in their past, come across a woman who has been attacked and is in desperate need of medical care.
New readers as well as those who have read all the books in the series know that being outside of the “town” of Rockton can be dangerous. There are the settlers, people who left Rockton and instead of traveling back to civilization after their time was up decided to start their own community in the wild. And this part of the Yukon is wild. There are no towns, no electricity, obviously no running water. In Rockton there are some amenities and there is solar-powered electricity. They have clean water and even a bakery with fresh bread and muffins. Those who apply to come to Rockton for a two-year period are given a job, and while the living conditions aren’t filled with luxury, they are safe. For the most part.
Casey was brought to Rockton to help Eric as the town’s detective. In each of the previous novels, she helped him solve a mystery. She and Eric are very much a couple, and they have a Newfoundland who assists them in tracking. In this story, they must figure out what to do with the hostiles, a group of former Rockton residents who have gone wild, to an extent that endangers those around them. The hostiles use a hallucinogenic tea to alter the minds of those in the group, and they become aggressive and unable to control their emotions or behavior. The hostiles have appeared in previous books.
When the stranger appears and seems to be a tourist who was attacked along with the others in her small group, two of whom are dead, she is stressed, violent, and unable to communicate with Casey. Coincidentally, there is a newcomer in town who speaks Danish and offers to translate. Things escalate, one of the founders of Rockton flies in unexpectedly, and Casey and Eric must determine whom they can trust in their town.
This might be a tough book to read and fully understand unless you’ve been reading the series all along. The characters, many of whom we’ve slowly come to know over the course of many novels, appear without much backstory. But this is not a series in which each mystery is solved by one person while the other, minor characters are unimportant. In this series, many of the other characters, including Casey’s sister April and Petra, a friend, and Phil who is the town manager, are all important. We must know that Casey and Eric aren’t sure they can trust Phil, and that Casey has felt inferior to April all her life. Until recently, Casey wasn’t aware that April is autistic and that her demeanor is not unfeeling, but that her behavior is the result of her autism. Watching the relationship between April and Casey grow and change is really lovely, and it takes place over more than just one book.
Armstrong solves the mystery of the hostiles in this novel, but she leaves open the question of what will happen to Rockton, and what Casey and Eric will do in the future. The entire series is well worth reading. Each story is gripping, and Armstrong does a very credible job creating an almost exotic atmosphere and setting that we can picture. Her main character, Casey, tells us the story in first person. We like Casey, and she’s honest about her insecurities and her fear of being wrong whether it’s in front of Eric or April or anyone else. But Casey has wonderful character traits — she is loyal, kind, and caring. She’s also tough, intelligent, and determined. In all, she’s a great detective and a great character study.
Every time I finish one of the Rockton mysteries, I can’t wait for the next one. We feel as if we are a part of the town, we’ve come to like the residents, and we want to know how they are doing. Now there is more at stake. What does Armstrong have planned for the future of Rockton?
“City of the Lost” is the first book in the series, followed by “A Darkness Absolute.” Read them all!
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Minotaur Books, the publisher, for review purposes.