When Detective Macy Greeley is called to Wilmington Creek, a sleepy ranching community in northern Montana, she expects an open-and-shut, if high-profile, murder case. What greets her is anything but. John Dalton, a soldier returned home from serving in Afghanistan, has been shot dead in an alleyway outside a local bar. Macy can’t see any obvious motive for the attack, but John’s closest friends and his twin sister, Jessie, have been keeping secrets.
With a series of wildfires pushing the area’s resources to the limit and Darby Lake’s water level dropping to a record low, Jessie is becoming increasingly anxious about what may be uncovered if the rains don’t return to the valley soon. Haunted by what’s hidden beneath the still waters, she doesn’t know whether to help or hinder Macy’s investigation. And Macy herself is increasingly uneasy about what she discovers as she navigates the politics of a small town and the Dalton family clan, as well as her own complicated relationship with the father of her young son.
Macy Greeley returns in another taut and intimate mystery from acclaimed Bone Dust White author Karin Salvalaggio.
About the Author
KARIN SALVALAGGIO received an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck at the University of London. Born in West Virginia and raised in an Air Force family, she grew up on a number of military bases around the United States. She now lives in London with her two children. Burnt River is her second novel.
Read an Excerpt
By Karin Salvalaggio
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Karin Salvalaggio Ltd.
All rights reserved.
The sun crept above the low hills, marking the eastern slopes of the wide valley. Granite boulders the size of houses glowed ghostly white and steam rose from the forested hills of monochrome pine. The Flathead River ran silver in the half-light, narrowing where it should have widened, a trickle where there should have been a flood. It was late July and no end to the heat wave was in sight. The big sky was shrouded in an acrid haze and further along the valley, the latest wildfire sent plumes of smoke nearly three hundred feet up into the air.
Dylan Reed rode his chestnut mare at an easy trot, picking his way along a narrow path that skirted the riverbank. With every sway of the saddle, his lips hardened into a grimace. He held the reins with one hand and massaged his thigh with the other. Six months earlier he'd been shot while doing house-to-house searches with his platoon in Afghanistan. He knew he was lucky. He could have just as easily come home in a box. He leaned out from the saddle to spit before pulling back his hat and focusing his green eyes on the escarpment. It was still a half-hour ride to where the cliffs overlooked the northern shore of Darby Lake. Overhead he heard the steady hum of an airplane's twin engines. Water tankers were using the lake as a fill station. They circled round the valley before skimming along the surface to fill their floats with water. With so many fires, they'd been flying nonstop all summer. He gave his mare a flick with the tail end of his reins, urging her forward at a faster pace.
Up ahead, Route 93 rested in the quiet cool of morning, but above him dark lines of tautly strung power cables buzzed and popped. He headed toward a heavy steel bridge spanning the Flathead River. The horse's hooves struck at the asphalt like hammers on an anvil, disturbing the starlings nesting high in the arches of the bridge. A roar went up and the flock rose in a swarm before darting back down between the metal girders. They flew low over the stony riverbank before disappearing into a stand of cottonwood trees that grew farther along the bend.
A rusted gate sagged across a road that had once led up to a scenic overlook. His friends John and Tyler had agreed to meet him there at six, but there was no sign of them. He guided his horse through the woods before rejoining the track some twenty yards farther on, and followed a series of tight switchbacks. In places the ground had cracked wide open and dry golden grasses grew in patches and hardened up like razor stubble. As he climbed, a view of the valley opened up. The low hills to the east were completely in shadow, but long fingers of light struck through the mist clinging to the river. A neat grid of streets marked the town of Wilmington Creek. The trees were so densely planted he could barely make out the rooftops. A patrol car was speeding along Route 93, its lights flashing. It entered Wilmington Creek from the south but did not leave.
At the final switchback, he struck out across the open face of the wide escarpment, coming close enough to the steep cliffs to catch glimpses of the still, dark waters of Darby Lake. The road ended at an unpaved turning circle that had once served as a parking lot for the scenic overview. Faded plastic bags fluttered in the trees and beer cans and whiskey bottles grew like wildflowers amongst the dwarf pines and scattered boulders. The safety railing had collapsed years earlier when a chunk of earth the size of a bus fell down into the lake. Warning signs were posted everywhere. The whole area was considered unstable. Dylan dismounted about twenty feet from the cliff's edge and rested his leg. It was numb from knee to hip, but the pain would come back soon enough. He dug his military-issue binoculars out of the saddlebag. Between him and the cliff's edge there were deep cracks in the rocky soil, some running in a solid arc that stretched into the undergrowth. Staying low, he inched his way across the bare earth. In places he could see the lake through the fissures. He hung his head over a drop of more than fifty feet and debris clattered down onto the exposed rocks that spilled like dice along the northern shore. He eased the strap of the binoculars around his neck and prayed the cliff would hold. The waterline had receded since he last checked. It was now possible to make out the contours of the lakebed. The dark rectangular shape stood out amongst a group of boulders. It was only a matter of time before one of the tanker pilots saw Ethan Green's pickup truck. Dylan rested his cheek against the warm earth and listened to the slow shifting of the overhanging cliff beneath him. A wolf howled and he turned the binoculars to the lake's eastern shore. It took a few minutes to spot the pack. A couple miles off, they emerged from the pine forest next to the picnic area before fanning out along the shore. In all there were six adults and three pups. He tracked their progress until they once again vanished in the trees.
Dylan returned to stable ground and sat against a boulder that faced the rising sun. He'd not gone to bed until one and had been on his horse by five. His stomach felt raw and his head hurt. Out of habit he patted his shirt pockets for his cigarettes, folding his hands across his lap when he remembered he'd quit. He closed his eyes and wished he'd kept his promise to stop drinking, too. The sun glowed warm and orange on his eyelids. He concentrated hard, picking out sounds both distant and close by. The land crackled in the growing light. It wasn't long before a shudder ran through his body and his head lolled to one side. He breathed deeply, his chest rising with each inhalation. His legs kicked out in front of him, his heels scratching at the earth as he muttered in his sleep. Another plane passed overhead and his eyes fluttered open but then shut just as quickly. His breathing slowed, his legs sprawled outward, one bent, the other dead straight.
A familiar voice cut right through his dreams. "Wake up, you lazy son of a bitch."
Dylan made a grab for the rifle that should have been lying across his lap and panicked when it wasn't there. He held his hands up, but could see nothing beyond a blinding light shining straight into his eyes. A shadow stepped between him and the rising sun and he blinked into a face he'd known since childhood.
Tyler's mouth was twisted into a smile of sorts. "Rise and shine, asshole."
Dylan kicked at him with his good leg. "Tyler, that was so fucked up."
Tyler stood with his hands in his pockets, watching his friend. He was shorter, but twice as wide. His thick arms were covered in tattoos and scars from where he'd been badly burned. His bald head was peppered with so many tiny bits of shrapnel that his skull looked like a speckled egg. He squatted down in front of Dylan and took a drag of his cigarette.
"I really shouldn't do that sort of shit to you."
Dylan couldn't disguise the tremor in his voice. "No, you shouldn't." He looked around. "Where's John?"
Another draw followed a steady gaze. "I was hoping he was with you."
"He's probably still asleep." Dylan tucked his chin in and crossed his arms. He wasn't cold, but he couldn't stop shaking. "Did you see what I meant about the water level?"
"Yeah, I'd say we're in trouble. How long do you reckon we've got?"
"Less than a week before it's visible from the air." He stood with difficulty and pointed up at the sky. A tanker plane was coming straight at them. It circled above the escarpment before dipping down toward the lake's surface. "One of these pilots might call it in."
"Not necessarily. I'm sure it's not the first truck that's been dumped in the lake. It could have been there for years."
"I don't think we should take that chance."
"It's supposed to rain."
"They've been saying that for weeks."
Tyler hurled a stone out toward the lake. "I knew this shit would come back to haunt us."
"Only bad choices."
"I don't recall being given much of a choice." Tyler teased a bit of tobacco out from between his teeth before walking toward the cliff. He stood with the tips of his boots over the edge. For a second he almost looked as if he might jump. "John is right. We're going to have to blow the rest of the cliff." He sprang up and down on the balls of his feet like he was testing how much weight it could take. "A few well-placed charges along these cracks and we could bury our problem forever."
"They'll hear it miles away."
"So what? It's not like they're going to dig up the lake." He stopped talking and set his eyes on Dylan. "And then there's Jessie."
"What about her?"
"You've got to talk to her. Find out what she's gonna say if all this blows up in our faces."
"Jessie was wasted that night. She doesn't know anything."
Tyler walked up to Dylan so their noses were just inches apart. "I never bought that. I think she was playing games. She knew how her father would feel if he found out she was hanging out with Ethan." He took a long drag off his cigarette. "We've got to make sure she stays quiet no matter how much pressure is put on her."
"John said she won't talk about it."
"John's full of shit. He doesn't want to upset her."
"You can't blame Jessie for wanting to put it all behind her."
Tyler grabbed Dylan by the collar. "Look, I really don't give a damn about what she has or hasn't been through," he said, holding on tight when Dylan struggled against him. "Either you sort her out, or I will."
Dylan broke away. "If you touch Jessie ..."
"Struck a nerve, did I?"
Tyler cupped his hands against the breeze and lit another cigarette. "I always wondered whether you might have taken advantage of the state she was in that night. She stayed at your place, slept in your bed." He blew a thin stream of smoke in Dylan's direction. "John's not here. You can tell me, bro."
Dylan limped over to his horse and pulled a bottle of water out of his saddlebag. "You've got a sick mind, you know that?"
Tyler walked to the ledge again. "Calm down, little man. I'm just fucking with you. Whether John likes it or not, we've got to make her understand what's going on here. If someone spots the truck, she's got more to lose than anyone else."
"She's not a child anymore."
"So you'll go speak to her."
Dylan leaned his forehead against the saddle. "I will."
"Good. By the way, I called my buddy Wayne."
"The ski patrol guy?"
"Yeah, he owes me big time. He'll give me what we need to blow the cliff. Been squirreling away explosives for years."
"How'd he manage that?"
"He's on avalanche patrol. No one seems to keep track of how much they use when they're out on the slopes."
"It has to happen this week."
"That goes without saying."
"You can trust him to keep his mouth shut?"
"Relax. I own his ass. He won't say a word."
Dylan untied his horse and struggled back into the saddle. "I'm heading home. You coming?"
"Yeah," Tyler said, his eyes never leaving the heavy plumes of smoke that blighted the southern sky. "I'll be along in a minute."CHAPTER 2
Police Chief Aiden Marsh stood on the sidewalk outside the Wilmington Creek Bar and Grill with his hat in his hands. At five foot eleven and without an ounce of spare flesh, he had an air of efficiency about him. He was so focused on his conversation with an older gentleman, he failed to notice Detective Macy Greeley's state-issue SUV gliding into the parking space right behind him. She sat in the driver's seat with the windows open, sipping her coffee. The two men kept their voices low, but once Macy cut the engine she could hear every word.
"Jeremy, I just want you to know how sorry I am."
The man Macy guessed to be Jeremy Dalton leaned his considerable bulk against the doorframe and smoothed his closely clipped gray beard with a meaty paw. Eyes in shadow, he had a ball cap pulled down tight on his head. His long gray hair fell past his shoulders.
"Aiden, with all due respect, I don't want your sympathy. I want answers."
"And I promise I'm going to get those answers for you."
Swallowing hard, the older man fought for control. "I just can't believe my boy is gone."
"Detective Macy Greeley should be here soon. Once she's had a chance to look things over I'll bring her in to talk to you."
"It doesn't seem right that they're sending a woman."
"Greeley is very good at what she does."
"You know her?"
Aiden picked his words carefully. "I've met her but we've never worked together. She was in Collier when they had all that trouble a couple of years ago."
"I hope you don't feel like I overstepped by calling the governor. I just thought he'd give you more men. I didn't realize they would send an investigator up from Helena to take over."
Aiden squeezed Jeremy's shoulder. "It's okay, Jeremy. I'm grateful for the help. I want to make sure we get this right."
Jeremy's chin barely moved. "Don't be too much longer. I've got to get home. I don't want Annie and the girls finding out from someone else."
The door closed and Aiden walked a few paces along the raised wooden walkway. He stood for a long time staring across the street. Macy had met him five years earlier at a law enforcement convention in Las Vegas, but their paths hadn't crossed since. During his seven-year tenure as Wilmington Creek's police chief, there'd been virtually no crime. Macy's colleagues in Helena were impressed, but she was keeping an open mind. She was too much of a cynic to believe such idyllic places existed anymore. Unlike most law enforcement personnel in Montana, Aiden kept his hair fairly long, but she couldn't find any fault with his uniform. It was immaculately pressed. He wore sunglasses, so she couldn't see his eyes in the fragmented reflections that scrolled across the mirrored lenses. From experience she already knew they were a pleasing baby blue.
Macy took a sip of her coffee and sank down farther in the seat. Since leaving home, she'd been plagued by the beginnings of a headache. She blamed the third glass of red wine she'd had last night instead of dinner. She'd been nibbling on a bagel for a couple hours, but really needed something more substantial if she was going to make it through the day. The first telephone call from the head of the state police had come at around two in the morning. When she answered, she thought Ray Davidson was calling her for personal reasons; it had been three weeks since they'd last spent time together. She should have known better. A half hour later she was leaving the home she shared with her mother, Ellen, and one-and-a-half-year-old son, Luke. She had a small suitcase tucked in the back of her vehicle and the state police captain's words ringing in her ear.
Macy, the governor called me personally. There's going to be a lot of pressure to get this right. I need you to get up to Wilmington Creek immediately.
Everything else she knew about the case had come in over the speakerphone as she drove north on Route 93. John Dalton had left the army right before Christmas on an honorable discharge and returned to his childhood home. He was twenty-six years of age and a highly decorated war veteran who'd survived three deployments in some of the most dangerous places in the world. According to witnesses, he'd stopped at a bar called The Whitefish to buy cigarettes at quarter past one in the morning. A half hour later he was found dead in the alleyway. There was a single gunshot wound to the back of his head and two in his upper back. The medical examiner was a cautious woman, so it surprised Macy she was already saying that it looked like an execution.
Macy followed Aiden Marsh's gaze. A group of patrol officers were gathered in the alleyway between The Whitefish and Flathead Valley Savings and Loan. Somewhere beyond a low screen that had been erected, John Dalton was lying facedown in the gravel.
Excerpted from Burnt River by Karin Salvalaggio. Copyright © 2015 Karin Salvalaggio Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I know this book has been out for a while but I just happened to come across it... It's well worth the money. Very good read and definite page turner.