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although he is pretty predictable in them
on May 28, 2016
I just finished the Big Lake series (through Big Lake Brewpub) and it's ... okay. The dialogue is contrived, but some of that may be clumsy exposition. The series bounces from whodunnit to tough-guy crime novels, so one gets some variety in it not present in other series and the author doesn't get too predictable in his whodunnits, although he is pretty predictable in them.
The first one, Big Lake, a whodunnit, contained a nice twist ending. However, that ending is repeated in various ways in the other whodunnits of the series "If it was X in the first one, it must be Y in this one." Major character reveals can be seen coming from miles away (in Big Lake Reckoning, a character reveals something of her past that was obvious to the reader)..
The archetype characters who exist solely to annoy the protagonist have no redeeming features. They're two-dimensional cartoons. With major exceptions in Big Lake Scandal where two annoying characters are humanized.
Like most whodunnits, the sheriff seems a little slow to explore alternative theories of the crime that the reader is practically shouting at him to consider.
Situations are contrived that cause the characters to laugh hysterically, but leave the reader rolling his eyes.
So, what does the author succeed in? He's created a highly readable series. He's created likable (though somewhat stock) characters. He's created a good rationale for his small town's spiraling crime rate. And not every book in the series is a gruesome murder. Arson, rape, and robbery make their appearances as the crimes du jour. So, one is not left wondering why anyone would remain in a town with a near-constant murder rate.
The author is also unafraid to take on mature themes. One book centers around the rape of a young woman. Other mature matters (spousal abuse, teenage pregnancy, etc.) are discussed throughout the series in an adult manner. The causes of the crimes are real motivations; no one is killed over a cupcake recipe or a dog show ribbon.
In all, it's a fun series to read, consistently better than average for a small town cozy. Don't take it too seriously. Sit back and enjoy.