Novel: Strange Country by Deborah Coates

Deborah Coates’ rural fantasy trilogy comes to a conclusion in Strange Country (2014), another quietly entertaining blend of dark magic, smoldering romance, and upper midwestern quirkiness. This one’s narrative splits time between its two central figures: Hallie Michaels, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan whose near-death experience has lodged her permanently between the realms of life and death, and Deputy Boyd Davies, a principled lawman beset by precognitive dreams. The procedural intrigue gets underway when a local citizen is gunned down by a high-powered rifle. Boyd, who is with the woman when she’s killed, launches an investigation that slowly unveils a twenty-year-old mystery, buried in the chilly North Dakota landscape. His efforts to solve the crime tie into Hallie’s strange, death-realm visions, as her connection with the local land and its people pulls her reluctantly into a web of supernatural mystery.

Strange Country’s plot isn’t quite as propulsive as its predecessors, but I still enjoyed the novel’s vivid, eerie setting, authentic characters, and distinctive midwestern voice. The sparsely populated, wide open North Dakota backdrop is just as much a character as any of the oddball denizens of West Prairie City, a windy, singular blend of Longmire stoicism and Twin Peaks eccentricity. Hopefully, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Hallie and Boyd, but if it is, I’m going to miss their weird supernatural afflictions and lingering looks, as well as the series’ atmospheric, slow-building mysteries.

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