Mask of the Deer Woman: Excerpt and Cover Reveal!

Laurie L. Dove

The following is an exclusive excerpt from and cover reveal for Mask of the Deer Woman, the debut novel from writer and editor Laurie L. Dove, forthcoming from Berkley in January 2025. In the following section, we're introduced to a fierce heroine and quite a lot of beetles (to help everyone get ready for the cicada-pocalypse).

The beetles could help her disappear, but not in the same way the others had. She would do it for a better life.

This was why, even though someone had trashed her van, even though her cell phone was now one big useless glitch and even though her mother was probably sick with worry, Chenoa Cloud had hiked for days to reach this ravine in the dark.

If the beetles were nocturnal, so was she.

The November wind whirred into the chasm and up the sleeves of her jacket like a threat, carrying with it loamy soil laced with the scent of decay. Chenoa tried to clear her head, to think instead of the waist-high switchgrass that had been gentle company as she walked across Oklahoma’s eroded plains, but the memories of missing friends were too intrusive. The moment her mind went quiet or she felt hopeful or—and this was especially annoying—she was alone in the dark, they were there with her too. The ones who left and never came back, or who couldn’t come back.

How many girls had she known who’d never been heard from again? Rez girls gone. Families that searched. Or didn’t. Fleeting news coverage. Then gone again.

A shiver trailed across Chenoa’s scalp as she took careful steps through the lonely cut that ran the edge of the reservation. Forget the switchgrass. Think of the beetles. She trailed her  hand along the ragged sandstone wall flanking the narrow trail and knew she must be close. The smell of death, that harbinger of the American Burying Beetle colony, grew stronger. Maybe she would come upon them, feeding on a carcass right in front of her. Or maybe they would be tucked into a cave, an expanse suddenly opening under her fingertips in the dark.

The image of a black and red beetle on a screen at the front of a lecture hall flashed in her mind. Any graduate student who could find and document an endangered species or, better yet, a species long-feared extinct, would be awarded grant money and a Smithsonian job at the end of the rainbow. It was the moment that had changed the angle of her future.

That’s when she’d realized she had a secret, hard and smooth as a seed, its electric shock singing through her body. In an instant, she knew why the American Burying Beetle looked so familiar, and she knew exactly how to win.

She was going home.

Excerpt continues after cover reveal.

Every weekend since, Chenoa had driven her Volkswagen from campus to the rez—a risky endeavor for the unreliable van—to conduct a search that started to feel pointless. Until she found a single crumbling carapace in this, the last place on Saliquaw Nation land that she knew to look. The crimson markings on the dried-out shell were enough to drive her onward. No matter the weather, no matter the hell she’d catch from her mother, no matter what she was afraid to find.

Chenoa stumbled to the floor of the ravine, the sound of gnarled branches creaking overhead, her visibility doused by the inky night. A pungent odor filled her nose, her mouth, like fetid, fermenting fruit and something fleshier, rotten, underneath. Here was the source of the smell at last: A raccoon, its ribs picked clean, its tail still thick with fur.

Chenoa moved carefully, using her headlamp to illuminate the decay from every angle, and found her future: a pair of American Burying Beetles in a clash of antennae and pincers, the victor to gain a mate. To gain it all. A place in the world where it could survive, even on this land that made people fight for all they had.

A thrill began to work its way up from her belly. It spread through her chest and into her throat, which she exposed to the hidden moon, grateful. She’d found them. They were her ticket out.

The American Burying Beetle would be a triumph for the reservation, thanks to the recent passage of a Recovering America’s Wildlife Act that would dedicate annually nearly $100 million in federal funds directly to tribal nations for on-the-ground conservation projects. Or it would spell disaster, bring the reservation’s development plans to a screeching halt with punitive fines for habitat damage. Either way, nothing would stop her from proving its existence. It was her way out.

Rez life isn’t for everyone, Chenoa whispered over the battling beetles.

The night sounds closed in.

Chenoa began to recite their names. The girls, gone. Kimberley. Tayen. Loxie. Aileen. She needed to tame her thoughts, put memories into a manageable order, ignore the warning that chirred inside her like an organ.

Chenoa stood, feeling the tingle of blood rushing into her thighs. Her headlamp made her blind to anything outside its range of light.

If she heard the sound, it only registered as a feeling. The snap of an instinct breaking open inside of her.

There was someone else. Out here, in the ravine. Where only she should have been.

Where she should have been alone.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay.”

A man, hands outstretched in front of him, fingers wide.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to spook you. I just…”

He was close now, talking fast, and Chenoa was standing, rooted. Her mind was trying to make sense of it, of someone out here, with her. In the dark.

Then he lunged.


From MASK OF THE DEER WOMAN. Used with the permission of the publisher, BERKLEY. Copyright © 2025 by LAURIE L. DOVE.

More Story
Kim Sherwood on Women in the World of Bond The Bond Girl. The phrase itself is a source of celebration and contention. Few other thriller writers before Ian Fleming...

Support CrimeReads - Become a Member

CrimeReads needs your help. The mystery world is vast, and we need your support to cover it the way it deserves. With your contribution, you'll gain access to exclusive newsletters, editors' recommendations, early book giveaways, and our new "Well, Here's to Crime" tote bag.

Become a member for as low as $5/month