"The Taking of Libbie, SD"
by David Housewright
Minotaur, 310 pp., $24.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Not many recurring mystery protagonists win over the reader the way Rushmore McKenzie does, and not many mystery writers possess the sylistic wherewithal and storytelling abilities of St. Paul, Minnesota, author David Housewright.
For novitiates, McKenzie (never "Rushmore," and never, ever "Rush"), born and bred in the capital city, and once a member of its P.D., lucked into a huge reward from an insurance company, allowing him the liberty to live well and to take on cases and causes that interest him-- but, more than likely, as favors for friends.
In this seventh McKenzie novel, he doesn't have much of a choice as per his involvement in the plight of (literally) poor LIbbie, South Dakota, which has lately been swindled by a flim-flammer who stole McKenzie's identity in the process, leaving the town coffers and many individual investors high and dry.
The town, desperate for an increase in revenue, has succumbed to a proposal to locate an outlet mall on the edge of town, from which residents must travel hundreds of miles to reach the high- and low-end chains in Rapid City.
As McKenzie is almost literally lassooed and brought into Libbie (named for Gen. Custer's wife), Housewright commences what amounts to a modern-day Western, complete with saloon fights, scarlet women (some with hearts of gold), outlaws, bullies, an imposing sheriff, and the big bad dude who aims to be the boss of everyone, on account of he pretty well owns the town.
The book's title even sounds like that of a Western, and Housewright takes the story to John Ford heights.
Housewright develops a delightful "stranger come to Dodge" scenario, times two: The first invader charms everyone out of their pants (literally and figuratively), while the second one-- the genuine McKenzie-- is compelled to right the imposter's wrongs, and to restore a large measure of his own sterling character.
Moreover, McKenzie aims to leave Libbie better off than he found it: Settling old scores and purging the place of the evil and ills that have infested it.
As McKenzie burrows into figuring out who's concealing what, and how all the pieces of the con (and two subsequent murders) fit, Housewright presents one exciting encounter after another.
This can't-put-it-down novel would make a winning gift for Father's Day, or for any mystery lover (well, lover of mysteries) in your life.
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