Detective Casey Duncan has been keeping a secret for over a decade; in college, she killed a man. Now it looks like his organized crime-connected family is catching up with her. Her best friend, in danger from an abusive ex, has heard about a town off the grid where people can go who need to start over, and convinces Casey to go with her. When she arrives, she finds out exactly why they needed to bring in a homicide detective.
My past experience with Kelley Armstrong consists of her adult urban fantasy novels. This one is a straight-up mystery, however with a setting so unusual that it allows for the full use of Armstrong's world-building skills. The isolation of Rockton, surrounded by forests with "hostiles" and others who have abandoned civilization even further than the residents of the town, makes it almost like an old West town, but it is in the modern world and modern technology can be had if it can be brought in from town or if you can make your way to it. ATVs and horses are both used to patrol the forests, but no paved roads to make it more unlikely to be found. There's wi-fi in the coffee shop but only one doctor. A small town as a setting for a mystery series isn't exactly unusual, but this one requires a level of description beyond who the local quirky characters are that one rarely finds in contemporary, real world fiction, at least in my experience, making it more satisfying for those who usually prefer their mystery with a side of fantasy or historical. The idea that it's a town made up almost entirely of people fleeing something from the outside world will also justify a crime rate necessary to maintain a series (both books so far involve multiple murders).
Then there's the characters. The complicated friendship between Casey and Diana strikes just the right tone, as does Casey's starting to find a place for herself and develop relationships -also mostly complicated- with the small number of women in town. And every time Armstrong tries to do Broody Gothic Hero, the result becomes more conceivably appealing (to the right person) and less "OMG run away now." (There is a reason why Bitten is my least favorite book in the Otherworld series, although Clay in that book is maybe less Rochester and more Pretty Phantom of the Opera.) Dalton is maybe more prickly than broody but I think he still falls into that archetype, and I love it.
Unlike the Cainesville books, there is absolutely no guilt in the pleasure that I take from this series. I'm adding the sequel, Darkness Absolute, to my list of things to check out from the library when committee work allows.