in the Woods
Death Roe: A Woods Cop Mystery
By Joe Heywood
This time around, Grady Service might really be in the soup. Chasing suspicions that a long-time government contractor might be illegally mixing tainted salmon eggs in its caviar production, Service has alienated colleagues, irritated friends, and infuriated alleged foreign mobsters.
Service, the laconic Department of Natural Resources conservation officer protagonist of author Joe Heywoods Woods Cop mystery series, is back in the sixth installment, Death Roe. Based on a case Heywood says he isnt at liberty to further identify, Death Roe finds Service investigating allegations that a long-time, highly-paid, state contractor is illegally mixing salmon roe contaminated with the carcinogen Mirex with safe eggs, then selling the mixture to unsuspecting Caribbean cruise ship lines.
When I write these books, Heywood says, I think its useful to use situations that will inform. He says his books are regularly based largely on real cases. Virtually nothing is invented in these books.
Still recovering from the murders of his girlfriend and aspiring conservation officer Maridly Nantz, and his son Walter, Service again uses work both as focus and as distraction.
Navigating ever-changing territory, Service finds himself reluctantly coordinating with agents from IRS, FDA, FBI, as well as fisheries personnel from New York. He is working further outside the boundaries of his DNR confines than ever before.
The case centers on fish processor Piscova, suspected of combining contaminated Lake Ontario roe with safe Lake Michigan eggs, all at the behest of the Ukrainian mafia. When Service begins to unravel the case, he finds threads that might lead all the way to the top levels of the DNR, a development both absorbing and offensive.
Relegated to a rental house in Saranac, in mid Michigan, Service is sharing duties with a younger officer, the attractive Dani Denninger, who had known Nantz and has a propensity for sleeping in the buff. Uncomfortable working with others, Service nonetheless likes (Denningers) aggressiveness. But while she was easy to work with he noticed she constantly looked to him for direction.
Denninger and Service are aided in their efforts by Zhenya Leukonovich, a Russian-born forensic accountant who also has an eye for Service, along with an eerie habit of referring to herself in the third person.
With salmon season quickly winding down in Michigan, Service and Denninger have to work swiftly to build their case. In typical Service fashion, the introverted woods cop logs long miles on the road, veering from the U.P.s Huron Mountains, where a former Caviar Queen is dying of cancer, likely caused by Mirex, to Lansings governmental buildings, and even Anchorage, Alaska, where he meets with a former Piscova employee with a grudge.
Author Heywood has again reconstituted his winning Woods Cop formula in Death Roe. In addition to the new case, with unlikely villains and wild twists, Services personal tragedies and small triumphs outline a fully formed character.
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Returning for encore performances too are Services fellow CO Candi McCants, Walters pregnant girlfriend Karlyanne, as well as Services longtime buddy Luticious Treebone, and even Michigans doppelganger governor Lorelei Timms. The combination of recognizable characters with new turns creates a believable tension, long a hallmark of Heywoods fiction.
The author, who lives in Portage, still lights out for the U.P. regularly, as often as not riding along with real life woods cops. He believes because COs do much the same work regardless of location, he could set his tales anywhere. Using the U.P., however, means, The setting then becomes a character in the story. The U.P., he believes, has a different kind of natural beauty than we have down here.
While Heywood worries that he might have started his series with Service too old, he has already finished the next installment. Tentatively titled Hard Green Violets, the new story starts out with a tale nearly a century old, then fast forwards to the present.
Heywood takes the same approach to all of his writing. He writes in longhand one day, then transcribes his work the next day on computer. When hes comfortable with the material, he submits it to his agent and waits for news of a contract with the publisher.
The formula works and Heywood says hes already written nearly 10,000 words on what will become his eighth Woods Cop mystery. Its based on something I discovered about how two state agencies interact. Hes keeping further details a secret, at least that is until Grady Service takes over the case.