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Don Bredes is not a very prolific author, but if The Fifth Season is any example of his work, the four-year wait between his first mystery novel, Cold Comfort (Harmony, 2001), this one is, as the cliché goes, was well worth it.

Bredes is also the author of Hard Feelings (Macmillan, 1977) and Muldoon (Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1982), neither of which qualify as crime fiction, but if you look at the dates when they came out, all they do is to back up what I said about him not being prolific. As for the completists among us, who want to know everything about every author we read and every book they wrote, Hard Feelings was made into a movie of the same name, a joint Canadian-US production, in 1982. Bredes was also the screenwriter for the films WHERE THE RIVERS FLOW NORTH (1994) and A STRANGER IN THE KINGDOM (1998).

But it is The Fifth Season which is of interest here, the second case tackled by Hector Bellevance, the town constable of Tipton, Vermont, a town so far north it may as well be in Canada, and a good place for a former member of the Boston PD to go into what could easily be thought of as seclusion. (We learn more about that from the back cover than we seem to obtain from anything read anywhere in the book. We also could, I imagine, have read the first book first, but things do not always work out the way they should.)

There is not much of a hint as to what the title refers to, only a reference on page six to the following:

 With all of the spring rain on top of the winter’s burden of snow, we were in the middle of a brutal mud season …

And with the mud comes a dead hand a dog has found in the woods, a complaint from the former son-in-law of the town’s road commissioner that the mile of road leading to his home has not been taken care of all winter, and a court order against Marcel Boisvert, that same previously mentioned town road commissioner, has been issued to remove him from his home. Reason: spousal abuse.

All on the same morning. This series of events does not include local ace reporter Wilma Strong’s two things to talk about just before they snuggle down to sleep. I was going to tell you what each of them was, but in honor of the fact that the day is also Hector’s birthday, I will let you be as surprised as he is. (You are entitled to guess, however.)

The following day, everything that went badly the day before gets worse. Sheriff Pete Mueller is found gunned down outside the Boisvert place, Marcel Boisvert has disappeared, and who knows who his next target may be. Even worse, if possible, the state troopers think Hector may be way too personally involved.

What makes this book work, even more than the complicated plot that you have to keep a sharp eye on every minute that you’re reading it, is the small New England home town atmosphere that is in every pore, nook and cranny of the story, which is jam-packed with personal background on everyone in town, going back to when Hector was a kid, if not before.

And Hector is a man on the move, every mile of the way, and even though he tells the story, he doesn’t reveal everything that he’s thinking, leaving the reader to do so some thinking along with him. In a tough and craggy way, however, it is author Don Bredes whose hands are firmly on the story, guiding it his way and no one else’s, false trails and all, and there are dozens of them, figuratively speaking. Once you enter Bredes’s realm, he’ll have you hooked, every twist, turn and bend of the way.

One thing that is for certain is that it had better not take another four years for a return visit. Personally, between you and me, there are people in this story I would like to see again.

— Reviewed by Steve Lewis on “Fatal Kiss”