In Raven Lake, a new murder mystery from Rosemary McCracken, financial planner and occasional sleuth Pat Tierney once again finds herself drawn into the tricky task of solving crimes that have shaken sleepy cottage country.

McCracken, a financial journalist and former contributing editor at Investment Executive, has made Tierney a familiar figure for financial advisors looking for some entertaining reading. Raven Lake is McCracken’s third novel with the Tierney character a financial planning expert with a hidden talent for solving crimes the cops just can’t seem to crack.

It seems that expertise in asking probing questions, an eye for detail and a flair for bringing order to a heap of disorderly facts and figures is handy when it comes to detective work.

In Raven Lake, Tierney also has to deal with delicate interpersonal relationships, another advisory professional’s skill that turns out to be useful when sleuthing.

Bruce Stohl, Tierney’s close friend and editor of the town of Braeloch’s newspaper, is implicated in the murder of his mother, Vi Stohl. Vi inexplicably vanishes while on a trip supervised by her nursing home’s staff. The victim is discovered later, rolled in a carpet and stashed in a storage locker. With a substantial inheritance at stake and no alibi to corroborate Bruce’s whereabouts, the police mark him as the likely suspect.

In between managing the day-to-day responsibilities of parenting and meeting with clients, Tierney sets out to clear Bruce’s name. This task is quite a feat for anyone to take on, especially as other nagging responsibilities are crowding Tierney’s plate: workplace tensions, a university-bound pregnant daughter and her overbearing, would-be in-laws.

Tierney’s lakeside retreat is home to some shady dealings as well, with fraudulent cottage listings popping up online to scam visiting vacationers. Even the victim turns out to have a dark past, having snatched Bruce from his birth parents after the death of her own child.

But Tierney is, as always, a cool professional, maintaining a healthy skepticism throughout her investigations. She’s a calming force who helps to temper people’s emotions, an indispensable skill for any advisor helping clients avoid rash decisions. She’s also fiercely loyal – although not to a fault.

She doesn’t sit on evidence that could undermine Bruce’s case, either reporting it to police or instructing him to do so. Clearly, Tierney is not one to compromise her ethics, even as her protective instincts kick in.

Unlike McCracken’s previous books, Tierney’s advisory work doesn’t get as much play in the plot of Raven Lake. That expertise mostly recedes into the background, surfacing mainly in her encounters with co-workers.

Perhaps it’s because Tierney is in the middle of transitioning out of her role as interim branch manager of the local financial services dealership in Braeloch. Still, her sharp instincts and meticulous approach obviously serve her well in her line of work.

There are familiar tropes and themes that advisors can identify with: a small-town junior advisor is turfed out by a big-city advisor, who may have more experience, but no ties to the community.

And, while personal reputation is one of the main resources that advisors bank on to build their business, Tierney, initially an outsider from Toronto herself, proves that trust can be earned over time. She endears herself to the locals, who confide in her as she expresses interest in their well-being.

Red herrings and misdirections abound in Raven Lake, in which almost every character is seemingly entangled in the crimes. In a small town, relations are so intimate and interconnected that there rarely are coincidences, making it hard to rule out suspects.

Raven Lake also is brimming with plenty of colourful personalities, from the David Suzuki-type environmentalist who was Vi’s childhood friend to the furniture hunters who bid on the unclaimed storage container where Vi’s body was found.

Less imaginative, however, is the dynamic between Tierney and the obstinate detectives who dismiss her findings, only to begrudgingly pursue them later. Tierney is always either on the same trail or one step ahead of the detectives, while they can’t seem to entertain other potential suspects.

Although Raven Lake’s events don’t move at a breakneck pace, every revelation feels consequential, pushing the narrative forward. There are some hair-raising moments, too, to keep the reader invested in the book’s ending.

McCracken offers up an inventive story centred on a compelling character. Through Tierney, the author subtly appeals to the sensibilities that advisors would be wise to emulate at work: daring, but not foolishly so in the face of a moral dilemma; and restrained when the situation demands it.

Raven Lake
by Rosemary McCracken,
Imajin Books 224 pages,

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