The term Cascadia conjures images of thick green forests, lush ferns that could swallow a small car, creeping pea-soup fog, windswept bluffs with crashing ocean waves far below, and buckets upon buckets of rain. Those forest are filled with wild animals, some of them of the folklore variety. But the bioregion of Cascadia is so much more than rain-soaked coastlines, extending from southern Alaska to San Francisco, then expanding east to claim all of Washington, and most of British Columbia, Oregon, Idaho, and even a bit of Montana. There’s some rolling farmland and high mountain terrain thrown in for good measure. It’s a diverse region where the flora and fauna make it a little too easy for comfort to hide a body in the woods. What better atmosphere could there possibly be for authors to delve deep into crime fiction or readers to curl up with a good book while rain pelts the windows?
I’ve spent most of my life in Cascadia, reading under those towering trees, so it was natural for me to set my new cozy mystery, Hammers and Homicide, deep in the heart of it all. Set in a small town in the Blue Mountains of Oregon, my main character is running her hardware store and enjoying the golden beauty of late August, until a land developer is murdered in her store.
Below are seven crime reads that overflow with the spirit of Cascadia.
Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson
One of the most atmospheric books to take you right into the heart of Cascadia’s “falling waters” temperament, is David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars. This book has had a coveted spot on my favorites shelf for years. It is set on San Piedro, a fictional island off the Washington coast where local fisherman Kabuo Miyamoto is on trial for the murder of Karl Heine. It’s alleged that Miyamoto killed his fellow fisherman over a land dispute dating back to WWII when the Japanese-American residents of the island were rounded up and sent to relocation camps. A winter storm on the craggy, remote island brings plenty of slashing rain and freezing fog to immerse the reader straight into those Pacific Northwest vibes.
Secrets Don’t Sink, K.B. Jackson
K.B. Jackson’s Secrets Don’t Sink takes us inland about twenty miles, but keeps us in a harbor town on a tidal river in Washington’s Puget Sound area. When journalist Audrey O’Connell delves deep into the town’s history in order to write a feature article for an upcoming town festival, she finds far more than she bargained for. Buried history, family secrets, and murder make for a compelling read. Jackson dives into the area’s indigenous Coast Salish roots and secrets that will turn the small town on its head.
Death on Tap, Ellie Alexander
Staying in Washington for one more book, Ellie Alexander’s Death on Tap takes us east to the Bavarian-themed village of Leavenworth in the Cascade Mountains. This is the first in a series where craft beer brewer Sloan Krause brews up tasty pints and manages to get herself entangled in murder mysteries. In Death on Tap, Sloan has left her husband and her position at the Krause family brewery. She’s gone to work at Nitro, a new brewery in town and is settling in just fine. But when Sloan finds another brewer dead in the fermenting tub with Nitro’s secret recipe in hand, the calm she was beginning to find froths over. Alexander does a great job of bringing the reader right into the heart of the Cascades with her vibrant descriptions of snow-encrusted peaks and crisp mountain air.
The Child Finder, Rene Denfeld
Moving south, The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld takes the reader deep into Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. Three years before, five-year-old Madison Culver disappeared while on a family outing to cut a Christmas tree. Told from multiple POVs, Naomi is “the child finder,” a private investigator known for her almost eerie knack for locating missing persons. The other voice is “the snow child,” a young girl whose identity remains hidden for much of the haunting story. Even though this book really goes into some dark places, the evocative atmosphere of the snowy forest holds the reader captive with its haunting beauty.
Hidden Pieces, Mary Keliikoa
Let’s take a detour over to the northern Oregon coast in Mary Keliikoa’s Hidden Pieces. Sheriff Jax Turner is at the end of his rope when a call comes in that a fourteen-year-old girl left for the school bus stop one morning, but never made it onto the bus. Her backpack is found in an unregistered sex offender’s car, and as the case begins to echo a cold case from Jax’s early career, he’s bound and determined to rescue the girl and not repeat the mistakes of the past. The setting is impeccable and moody with towering trees and sideways rain. The fact that it transports the reader to my beloved northern Oregon coast doesn’t hurt one little bit.
The Book of Cold Cases, Simone St. James
Next, we’re going to stay oceanside with The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James. The setting is the dark and rainswept Oregon coast where the biggest mansions hold the heaviest secrets, and some crimes come back to haunt you. True crime blogger, Shea, has a morbid fascination with the unsolved 1970s Lady Killer Murders, so when she meets the woman who was accused, and acquitted, of the murders, she implores the older woman to grant her an interview. The story is told from both women’s viewpoints and moves back and forth through time as the story unfolds. St. James is a master at building a sense of place. This supernatural tale of suspense gave me a chill as if the pounding Pacific Northwest rain was dripping down my spine.
Welcome Home to Murder, Rosalie Spielman
Lastly, let’s pivot east to the fictional town of New Oslo, Idaho in Rosalie Spielman’s Welcome Home to Murder. This is the first book in the Hometown Mysteries. Recently retired Army veteran Tessa Treslow has reluctantly returned to her small hometown with her dog Vince in tow. While she’s deciding what’s next, she’s happy to put her mechanic skills to use by helping out at her aunt’s auto body shop. But when a man is murdered in Aunt Edna’s garage on the night Tessa returns to town, it looks as if someone is framing Aunt Edna for the murder. Not about to let her aunt take the fall, Tessa throws herself into finding the real killer. Not only does Spielman do a fabulous job showing the beauty of this rural area, the addition of Mangus the Moose charging through the woods will leave readers hooting with laughter. While the setting for New Oslo is still Cascadia, it’s much more rural farming country than lush coastal setting, highlighting the diversity of the bioregion.