A forest ranger who puts out fires. A forest ranger who puts out fires and solves mysteries. A forest ranger who puts out fires, solves mysteries and looks good in the process. A forest ranger who puts out fires, solves mysteries, looks good in the process and does this all in Northern Alberta. What’s not to love about the premise of Dave Hugelschaffer‘s Porter Cassel mysteries? All of these aspects to his books come together to create a very unique and enjoyable series that I’ve returned to after a few years. Before I go any further, I must admit to everyone that I have a soft spot for Hugelschaffer: I was his publicist when I worked at Cormorant Books, and then I hosted him here in Calgary when he attended Wordfest 2009.
But regardless of my personal connection to him, he’s a fascinating guy, and his extensive knowledge about all things manly play a big role in his books. Below is a quote from his bio on the Crime Writers of Canada website: “Dave Hugelschaffer grew up on a farm in Alberta and in his younger years worked as a trapper, construction worker, painter, beekeeper, log builder and stockyard hand before joining the Alberta Forest Service, where he worked as wildland firefighter, timber cruiser and Forest Ranger for eight years. Following this, he spent ten years working in the forest industry for a private company, coordinating the operations of the forest and oil & gas industry, and has since returned to the Forest Service.” Now, who doesn’t believe that a guy like this can come up with a believable mystery series that takes place in the wilds of Alberta?
When you read the book, you can’t help but liken the protagonist Porter Cassel to Hugelschaffer himself, they seem very similar in many ways, although some of the shenanigans that Cassel gets up to makes you secretly hope that Hugelschaffer is intentionally trying to distance himself from his character with these questionable personality quirks. Which is another reason why Hugelschaffer is so surprising as an author-he’s got great character development, on top of his detailed, procedural knowledge of crime scenes, arson cases, etc. The human qualities and personal troubles that his main character goes through are frequent and believable enough to draw in a reader like myself, someone who cares more about the ‘why’ then the ‘how’. So don’t be dissuaded female readers, this isn’t a book without its relationship troubles-Cassel is actually engaged, but even this is called into question within the pages of Whiskey Creek.
The plot of this book is your typical mystery: a strange death occurs, Cassel tries to figure out who did it, problems ensue, mystery is eventually solved, etc. Some have called his series “The Forest Rangers’ CSI” and I think this is a very apt description. Although some situations can get bogged down in details, many crime writers do this intentionally, so I’ll give Hugelschaffer the benefit of the doubt here. To sum up, if you’re like me and enjoy a good mystery, perhaps one that will teach you something about a topic you don’t know much about, pick up a Hugelschaffer mystery because you’ll be pleasantly surprised.