Alicia Beckman is a new pseudonym for the successful crime writer Leslie Budewitz. Under her own name Budewitz has proven her talent by receiving nominations and awards for her cozy novels, her short stories (both contemporary and historical), and her non-fiction work from many of the most prestigious organizations under the crime fiction genre umbrella. Branching out now into the suspense arena, the name change makes perfect marketing sense. So even though Bitterroot Lake is the first novel from Alicia Beckman, it is hardly this talented writer’s true debut and readers can rest assured that they are in the hands skilled wordsmith.
Whitetail Lodge is a picturesque residence on the shores of Montana’s Bitterroot Lake. Right from the start, Alicia Beckman brings this location to life and makes it a character in the story. As much as an inanimate building possibly can, Whitetail Lodge holds the secrets that affect not only the McCaskill Family who own it, but also in many ways, the Lodge alters the trajectory of virtually every person who visits. Especially those that were there – twenty-five years ago – when a violent assault and a tragic accident destroyed the friendship of a tight-knit group of young people including Sarah McCaskill.
Now in the present day, Sarah has just lost her husband to cancer and her mother convinces her to return to Whitetail Lodge to help renovate and clean it so that the family can put it on the market. Shortly after arriving, Sarah discovers one of her old girlfriends hiding out in a cabin on the property. After convincing Janine to talk, Sarah learns that there has been another death related to that past event. When mysterious notes begin to appear claiming to know what really happened that night at Whitetail Lodge, Sarah and Janine must bond together with their other estranged friends to discover who is behind the threats and what it is that person thinks they know.
Sarah McCaskill is very much the main character of this story and as such, she is imbued with the most depth. Having her face this new dilemma while in the midst of grieving the loss of her husband works well to elicit the reader’s sympathy. There is also a light supernatural thread that runs through Bitterroot Lake and having Sarah in this fragile state works to mediate any verisimilitude some readers might feel is lacking when faced with such mystical coincidences. Ghosts can work as metaphors for the past that haunts a place, so while it is not a huge part of the Bitterroot Lake plotline, its inclusion feels authentic and should not act as a barrier towards giving this carefully-structured story a try.
Make no mistake about it, Alicia Beckman packs a ton of story into Bitterroot Lake. What could have been a very successful – yet straight-forward – plot becomes even more interesting because of the various tangents this author takes readers on. On the very surface, it’s a story of friendship – about how tenuous that bond can be, but also how sometimes it is those very friendships that reappear in times of great need. Bitterroot Lake unspools its secrets at a deliberately slower pace, perhaps to give the reader time to really connect with these characters and their shared trauma. Whatever the reason this pacing is successful and grounds the reader in every small moment, so that when those large reveals arrive, they feel earned and suitably surprising. Bitterroot Lake is a “debut” that will have fans hoping Alicia Beckman has many more tales to tell.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.