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Lake Country: A Novel

Lake Country: A Novel

4.5 2
by Sean Doolittle

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“Sean Doolittle is a young writer with serious chops,” says George Pelecanos, and Laura Lippman calls him “hip, smart, and mordantly funny.” Now the acclaimed author of Safer returns with a mesmerizing story of tragedy, revenge, and redemption.
Five years ago, successful architect Wade Benson killed a young woman


“Sean Doolittle is a young writer with serious chops,” says George Pelecanos, and Laura Lippman calls him “hip, smart, and mordantly funny.” Now the acclaimed author of Safer returns with a mesmerizing story of tragedy, revenge, and redemption.
Five years ago, successful architect Wade Benson killed a young woman when he fell asleep at the wheel. His punishment: two days in jail for every year of his probation. But for one friend of the victim’s family—an ex-marine named Darryl Potter—this punishment isn’t enough. Potter sets out to even the score by kidnapping Benson’s twenty-year-old daughter. It’s a bad, bad plan, and only Mike Barlowe, Potter’s former combat buddy, knows how to stop it. With a beautiful news reporter, the cops, and a bounty hunter on Potter’s tail, Barlowe races to head off his troubled friend before innocent people get hurt. The hunters and the hunted plunge north into Minnesota’s Lake Country, each with their own ambitions and demons, each headed for a violent collision—and for one horrifying moment of life or death.

“As long as there are writers like Sean Doolittle out there, American crime fiction has got a sterling future ahead of it.”—Dennis Lehane

“With Lake Country, Sean Doolittle has out-Fargoed Fargo. Already a master of Midwestern noir, he takes a huge, novelistic leap with his newest work, a complex, quirky, and tremendously satisfying story of revenge and redemption. If you haven’t yet read a Doolittle novel, you’ve missed the cutting edge of crime fiction today. Trust me, this guy is the future.”—William Kent Krueger, New York Times bestselling author of Northwest Angle 

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Fans of such regional mystery specialists as Kent Krueger and Steve Hamilton will welcome this twisted tale of crime and punishment gone awry set in Minnesota lake country from Barry Award–winner Doolittle (Safer). Buddies Darryl Potter and Mike Barlowe lead lives of quiet desperation, drinking too much and reminiscing about the not-so-good-ol’-days in Afghanistan, where as soldiers they watched friends and foes die. When Darryl commits an improbable crime to mark the anniversary of a senseless tragedy, Mike sets out to right the wrong and save both the victim and his buddy, but things don’t turn out as planned. Mike soon has dogged reporter Maya Lamb, self-promotion king Buck Morningside, bookie Toby Lunden, fugitive hunter/thug Bryce, and a phalanx of law enforcement agencies on his trail. Much collateral damage follows with lives lost and others dramatically altered. The skillfully evoked landscape and compellingly flawed characters help make this a winner. Agent: David Hale Smith, Inkwell Management. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
“As long as there are writers like Sean Doolittle out there, American crime fiction has got a sterling future ahead of it.”—Dennis Lehane

“With Lake Country, Sean Doolittle has out-Fargoed Fargo. Already a master of Midwestern noir, he takes a huge, novelistic leap with his newest work, a complex, quirky, and tremendously satisfying story of revenge and redemption. If you haven’t yet read a Doolittle novel, you’ve missed the cutting edge of crime fiction today. Trust me, this guy is the future.”—William Kent Krueger, New York Times bestselling author of Northwest Angle

Praise for Sean Doolittle’s Safer
“Doolittle cleverly articulates the vulnerability of a close-knit community where those friendly people who know your name also know your darkest secrets.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A smart, funny and powerfully suspenseful thriller.”—People
“Enthralling and unsettling.”—The Washington Post

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.84(h) x 0.74(d)

Read an Excerpt


Darryl had been in one of his moods for a week, and he seemed to find a valve for it that night at the bar. “All you clowns pipe down,” he said.

Nobody paid much attention. Glen Campbell kept playing on the jukebox. Pool balls clacked around the table in back. A couple of guys from the garage across the street threw darts in the corner, still in their grease-­stained coveralls. The old-­timers down the bar went right on bitching about whatever they figured needed bitching about today, and Mike Barlowe sat on his stool, nursing a beer, wondering what it would take to fix his life. More or less Tuesday at the Elbow Room.

Darryl said, “Hal, gimme the thing.” Hal wiped the bar with one hand, slid the remote over with the other. Darryl gave Mike a nudge and punched up the volume on the Elbow’s only television, a raggedy Magnavox Hal kept bolted over the back-­bar mirror on a shelf made out of angle iron and a plank of warped plywood.

Mike looked and saw that they were doing a story about Becky Morse on the ten o’clock news. At first he wondered why, and then the reporter told him: April 7. Five years tomorrow since the crash.

“Tell you right now where the hell this is going,” Darryl Potter said.

Mike watched as they reran the same bygone photo from the Morse kid’s senior yearbook: same honey hair, same pretty smile. A heartbreaker. The picture cut to file footage of cops and EMTs, a dark highway strewn with wreckage, emergency lights strobing wet pavement and scattered glass.

Now came the girl’s mother, Lily Morse, looking older than Mike remembered. She spoke to the reporter from a couch in a living room he remembered better than he’d have preferred. In a minute the picture cut again to some white-­haired state senator with a face full of eyebrows, talking to the camera about whether or not they’d ever pass a new law.

Finally, a little business on the other driver: Benson, his name was, though Mike wouldn’t have remembered that if he hadn’t been watching the news. Late forties or so by now. Sharp-­looking guy with a sharp-­looking wife and a sharp-­looking daughter of his own.

“Son of a bitch,” Darryl said. He shoved the remote back down the bar with his knuckles and lit a cigarette.

Mike felt a dull pang of shame.


Jesus. He’d been out of work since the last week in March, too much of that time spent right here at the Elbow with Darryl, and the days had started running together. He sat back on his stool and rubbed his eyes. Thought: Hell.

“What’s with you two mopes?” Hal put down new beers and changed out their ashtray. No such thing as a smoking ban at the Elbow Room.

“Got a joke for you,” Darryl told him. “Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Asshole falls asleep driving and kills your kid ­sister.”

“Asshole falls asleep driving and kills my kid sister who?”

Darryl jetted smoke through his nose. “Some fuckin’ joke, ain’t it?”

Hal looked at Mike.

“I don’t get it either,” Mike said.


After the party had broken up, and the rain tapered off, and most of the others from the dayside crew had found their coats and umbrellas and headed for home, Rose Ann Carmody took the stool next to Maya’s, ordered a Sapphire martini for each of them, and said, “Happy birthday to me.”

Maya smiled. “Happy birthday, Rose Ann. You’re supposed to let us buy the drinks.”

“This one’s not for me, kiddo. It’s for you.”

“What did I do?”

“Hush,” Rose Ann said. “The news is starting.”

Maya glanced at the nearest television. It wasn’t hard to find one; the Fox and Hound sat around the corner from the station, and all umpteen flat screens played the same thing every night at six and ten.

Like clockwork, all around the room, News7 logos came spinning into frame, trumpeted in on a fanfare so familiar by now that Maya imagined she’d need surgery if she wanted it removed. The intro peeled away, revealing Rick Gavigan and Carmen Brashear behind the anchor desk, live, in high-­definition, not half a block from where Maya sat—­in somewhat less than regular definition, at this point—­sipping call gin with Rose Ann. Rick and Carmen had been teetotaling here themselves an hour ago, wishing Rose Ann a happy fiftieth along with everyone else. Maya expected they’d see at least Gavigan back here in the bar in approximately thirty-­seven minutes, ready to cover lost ground.

Meanwhile, tonight’s top story: ruptured sewer main in Eden Prairie. Rush-­hour traffic held at a standstill.

“The shit we cover,” Rose Ann said.

Maya went back to her drink. At the first commercial, Rose Ann noticed Maya’s glass, already empty, and said, “Oops.” She ordered another.

“Okay,” Maya said. “What do you want?”


“You’re plying me with alcohol for some reason.”

“I’m waiting to make a toast, you lousy sponge.”

Maya narrowed her eyes. “What kind of toast?”

“Good grief, the regular kind,” Rose Ann said. “Or is tomorrow not your anniversary?”

As if Rose Ann had cued it, the broadcast returned: second segment, lead story, Maya Lamb reporting.

“Ah,” Rose Ann said. “Here we are now.”

The story was a follow-­up on Becky Morse and Wade Benson. Benson was the local architect who had worked past midnight too many nights in a row, fallen asleep behind the wheel of his Range Rover, and crossed the center line on a stretch of State 169 that normally had a barrier but happened, that rainy spring night five years ago, to be serving as an undivided two-­lane due to road construction. Becky Morse had been the Mankato State University sophomore he’d met more or less grille-­to-­grille in the oncoming lane.

Alcohol hadn’t been a factor on either side, only fatigue and dreadful timing, and the architect had come through with a concussion and minor bang-­ups. Becky Morse, on the other hand, had been driving a compact hybrid, and not an expedition-­class four-­by-­four. She’d lingered two days in a coma at the Hennepin County Medical Center before succumbing to her injuries, which included ruptured everything, fractured you-­name-­it, and massive head trauma.

For years now, the girl’s mother had been pushing for legislation to mandate stiffer sentences for so-­called “drowsy driving,” and a version of her bill had finally made it through committee. Five years since the crash that had given the bill its nickname, Becky’s Law now awaited hearing on the Senate floor. Maya had been working on the piece for a few days, tonight’s installment being the first in a two-­part package tying in with the state patrol’s Highway Safety Week.

“Well done,” Rose Ann said when it was over. She raised her glass. “Welcome to the Five Minnesota Winters Club.”

Maya was surprised. A little touched, even, in spite of her mood. Becky Morse had been the first story she’d ever covered at News7. Maya hadn’t mentioned this to a soul, but Rose Ann hadn’t missed it.

She clinked stemware with her news director. Thin glass chimed beneath the sports report. After they’d taken their medicine, Maya said, “Tell me something.”

“Happy to,” Rose Ann said.

“When the hell did half a decade go by?”

Rose Ann laughed. “Honey, I stopped counting ’em two decades ago. Now. Speaking of plying a reporter with alcohol.”

Maya followed Rose Ann’s gaze to a booth in the corner, where two other daysiders had lingered. Kimberly Cross, tiny and blond, fresh cosmo in hand, flirting up a storm with Justin Murdock, the hot kid just in from some market in Idaho. Suddenly Maya felt ancient. “Who’s plying whom?”

“I don’t know,” Rose Ann said. “It’s impossible to be certain from this distance.”

They watched. It was a regular National Geographic special over there: The male of the species displays his plumage; the flushed cheeks and tousled forelocks of the female signal her interest. After a minute, Maya said, “Isn’t Kimberly engaged?”

“Mm,” Rose Ann said, sipping her drink.

Maya turned on an elbow. “Isn’t Kimberly engaged to a left defender for the Wild?”

“When last I’d heard,” Rose Ann said. She tilted her head in thought. “That’s a nice smile on our young Justin Murdock. It’d be a shame if someone came along and knocked all his teeth out.”

“Or even most of them,” Maya agreed.

Across the room, in the dim pocket of the booth, Kimberly Cross finally glanced up and noticed her audience. Maya and Rose Ann waved in unison from the bar. Kimberly looked away quickly, the bloom in her creamy cheeks spreading to the rest of her face.

God, Maya thought. She’d been Kimberly’s age when she’d come up to the Cities from Clark Falls, Iowa, ready to take on the world, or at least Minneapolis. The twenty-­six-­year-­old Maya had imagined herself somewhere in New York City by now, a string of Justin Murdocks bobbing in her wake like channel markers in a wide river of accomplishment.

“Cheer up,” Rose Ann said, misreading Maya’s mind. “You’re still young. And we’re leading a 14 market. And you’re the only reporter in town speaking for Becky Morse tonight.”

Is that what I’m doing? Maya thought.

“Becky Morse,” she said, leaning her glass once more toward Rose Ann.

“I was going to say dental insurance,” Rose Ann said, shaking her head sadly at the Cross–­Murdock booth. She pinged the rim of her glass against Maya’s. “But whatever makes you feel better.”

Meet the Author

Sean Doolittle is the author of five previous novels: the Barry Award–winning The Cleanup, Rain Dogs, Burn, Dirt, and Safer. He lives with his wife and children in western Iowa.

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Lake Country 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
arlenadean More than 1 year ago
Author: Sean Doolittle Published By: Batam Age Recommended: Adult Reviewed By: Arlena Dean Blog For: GMTA Rating: 4 Review: Sean Doolittle's novel "Lake Country" was quite a thriller read that would keep you turning the pages until the end. If you are a 'Doolittle' fan you will not be disappointed with this read. This story line will present a good dose of tension and many twist and turns along the way. The setting of this story takes place in Minnesota with beautiful lakes and down to earth good people representing the state. This novel deals with characters from "ex-Marines, a TV reporter, barkeeper, the family of the man who killed the girl... to the mother of the victim." "Lake Country" begins..."as a successful architect Wade Benson...with a lovely daughter, wife, and a beautiful home goes to prison for a weekend. Why? He had been sentenced to two days in jail for every year of his five-year probation. This is his last weekend in jail for falling asleep at the wheel and killing a young woman driving the car he hit head on. No alcohol, no drugs, just fell asleep." Now, who wouldn't be upset a such a light sentence that was handed down? Would someone be over the top upset with this verdict? Now what would these ex-Marines...dealing unsuccessful with PTST and drinking problems deal with this...especially Darryl Potter? This is where I will say you must pick up "Lake Country" to see just what tragedy would come of this situation. The author Sean Doolittle has layed it all out for the reader because you already will know from the read who had done it but still how this will end will be a story within itself presenting only a good mystery with lots of tension with its fast-paced action. If you are looking for a good well written thriller you have come to the right place for "Lake Country" would recommend this novel as a good read.