Lone Jack Trail is the second novel from Owen Laukkanen featuring Mason Burke, Jess Winslow, and Lucy, the pit bull mix that first brought Burke and Winslow together. It follows the excellent Deception Cove, which was published in 2019, and, as good as that book was, this one is even better.
Burke is an ex-con who did fifteen years in prison as an accessory to murder. Winslow, recently widowed, is a former Marine who returned home to Deception Cove with PTSD after serving in Afghanistan. A small town in Makah County on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Deception Cove is on a downhill slide and most of the people who live there are barely hanging on. Some are living on the margins of the law while others have already crossed over the line in an effort to keep body and soul together.
While in prison, Burke participated in a program where convicts trained service dogs which then went to people who needed them. As part of the program, he trained Lucy who was then given to Jess Winslow as a comfort animal. Once out of prison, Burke went to Deception Cove to ensure that Lucy was being treated well. He and Winslow became involved in a mess that involved Lucy, and once those matters were resolved, Burke remained in Deception Cove, tentatively beginning a relationship with Winslow that might or might not have a future.
As this book opens, Winslow has become a Makah County deputy sheriff and Burke is living in a cheap motel, working for a contractor who is rebuilding Winslow’s house. Their relationship is progressing slowly and it’s still not clear if the two have a real future together. They do share a love for Lucy, though, and both are very protective of the dog.
This creates a problem when a former professional hockey player named “Bad” Brock Boyd returns home after serving a prison sentence for dogfighting. Boyd is a local hero—the most famous person ever to come out of Deception Cove—and he remains very popular, his conviction notwithstanding. Given that Lucy had been rescued from a dogfighting ring before coming to Mason Burke, Burke is naturally suspicious and resentful of Boyd. The two circle each other for a couple of days and after Burke sees Boyd harassing Lucy, the two men have a huge fight.
A couple of days after that, Boyd’s body washes up on the beach with a bullet hole in his forehead. Burke, already having served time for murder and having fought with Boyd, is the natural prime suspect. He’s still an outsider in Deception Cove; many people are suspicious of him anyway, and most people have no problem assuming that he’s guilty of killing Boyd.
Even though she cares for him, even Jess Winslow can’t be totally certain that Burke is innocent, and with all of the cards seemingly stacked against him, Burke goes on the run in the hope of proving his innocence. Winslow, of course, is badly compromised, torn between her job and her affection for Burke.
As usually happens in a thriller like this, one thing leads to another and the tension and the action ramp up significantly. It’s a great plot, and as in his previous books, Laukkanen creates believable and very sympathetic characters, both human and canine. In particular, he excels at creating a great setting, and from the opening pages, Deception Cove and the surrounding county feel absolutely real.
As evidenced by my reviews of Laukkanen’s earlier books, I’ve been hugely impressed with his work from the very beginning, and Lone Jack Trail is another terrific novel that will keep readers turning the pages well into the night. I’m already looking forward to his next book.