Doolittle, Sean. Lake Country.

NY: Bantam, 2012.

Doolittle has published half a dozen novels now and has made a name for himself as a writer of wry noir crime stories leavened with humor. This one begins after Wade Benson, a successful Minneapolis architect who works too hard, makes a terrible mistake. One night, he drowses off while driving home late and his SUV destroys the much smaller car of college student Becky Morse, who is killed. Benson gets five years’ probation (with an interesting twist) but the incident leaves him with a heavy psychological burden — especially since Becky’s brother was killed in Iraq a couple days later and their father committed suicide the day after that.

Then we have Darryl Potter and Mike Barlowe, both of whom had served in the Marines with young Pvt. Morse. Five years later, Barlowe has a plastic knee, a diagnosis of PTSD, and a deep revulsion against guns and violence. Darryl has a Bad Conduct Discharge, a drinking problem, and a job as a collector for a nerdish young bookie. Darryl also thinks Benson got off way too easy. Maybe he’ll do something about that. Finally, there’s Maya Lamb, reporter for News7, whose first big story on her arrival in the Twin Cities was the death of Becky Morse and who is now facing early burnout.

Darryl’s kidnapping of the architect’s daughter, Juliet — now the same age Becky was when she died — starts events rolling that no one can control, with Mike determined to rescue his friend from his headlong self-destruction, and the Vietnam-era ex-Marine who runs the bar where Mike and Darryl hang out getting sucked in against his better judgment, and the young bookie’s bail-bondsman uncle lending him a psychopathic bounty hunter who wants the posted reward, and Maya trying to decide whether she really cares enough anymore to cover this riff on her earlier story.

Doolittle is very good at characters with problems and even better at crisp dialogue that brings the speakers even more sharply into focus. The action is nearly non-stop this time and it’s clear this would make an excellent film. Doolittle has earned a place on my “automatic” list.


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