On a hot August morning Anne Paris is found dead, her body floating in the slough at the bottom of her family's remote summer property on an island in Puget Sound, the apparent victim of a sailing accident. Irene Chavez, the lone female detective in a rural Washington State sheriff's department, is assigned to investigate the death of this privileged young psychiatrist.
As Irene gets to know Anne's family, their houseguests and neighbors, and Anne herself as the dead woman emerges in the accounts of the people who knew her, she comes to believe that it was not the boom of a sailboat that whacked Anne on the back of the head, but someone close to her.
Irene's own past loss and unrealized ambitions, along with her awareness of the distinctions of social strata, compromise her objectivity and professionalism as she attempts to maintain composure in the face of the opaque and entitled enclave of summer people. Working with unusual autonomy and urgency while her supervisor is on vacation, Irene resists the easy solution - and the family's wishes - to close the case as an accident, and persists in a homicide investigation.
Paralleling Irene's professional challenges, her fourteen-year-old son is arrested, bringing home to Irene the perils of growing up in a small town or anywhere, and the inevitable parenting limitations of a working single mother. It is in the context of her son's arrest that Irene first becomes acquainted with the new Mason County prosecuting attorney, a potential ally or adversary, she isn't sure which.
Carefully observed and psychologically authentic, this first Irene Chavez mystery blends rich character development and a strong sense of place with the intricate plotting of a traditional procedural.