Review: Death in the Dark Woods by Annelise Ryan

Review: Death in the Dark Woods by Annelise RyanDeath in the Dark Woods (Monster Hunter Mystery #2) by Annelise Ryan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Monster Hunter Mystery #2
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on December 12, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

A potential Bigfoot sighting is linked to a vicious murder, but skeptical cryptozoologist Morgan Carter is on the case in this new Monster Hunter Mystery by USA Today bestselling author Annelise Ryan.
Business has been booming since Morgan Carter solved the case of the monster living in Lake Superior. The Odds and Ends bookstore is thriving, of course, but Morgan is most excited by the doors that were opened for her as a cryptid hunter. 
Recently, there have been numerous sightings of a Bigfoot-type creature in the Chequamengon-Nicolet National Forest area of Bayfield County, Wisconsin. After a man is found dead from a vicious throat injury in the forest, the local sheriff asks Morgan to investigate. 
When Morgan and her dog, Newt, go there to investigate, they uncover a trail of lies, deception, and murder. It seems a mysterious creature is, indeed, living in the forest, and Morgan might be its next target.

My Review:

“Sightings of the monster are directly related to consumption of the Highland beverage,” or so proclaimed a tour guide on the way to Loch Ness a few years ago. Not that cryptozoologist Morgan Carter is looking for Nessie, or even any kin she might have in the Great Lakes, but that quote does rather sum up Morgan’s attitude towards the cryptids that fascinate her – even though she doesn’t expect to find one.

Morgan is a scientist first, a bookstore owner second, and a professionally trained cryptozoologist third. Her scientific training tells her that finding a real cryptid, either in the present day or in a formerly hidden bit of the historical record, is unlikely at best.

Then again, coelacanths weren’t discovered until 1938. So an aquatic ‘sea monster’ whose remains have all fallen into the deep is still possible if not likely. Bigfoot, a land-based primate cryptid – not so much.

So when her friend, local police chief Jon Flanders, brings a conservation officer from Bayfield, Wisconsin to her door with a tale of two mutilated dead bodies, one scared witness and the possibility that Bigfoot is on the loose, Morgan is intrigued – but far from convinced. It’s far more likely, as that tour guide claimed, that either the weather conditions in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest were foggy with a chance of cryptid sightings, or that the witness was either blind drunk or just plain blind.

After all, whether or not Bigfoot is responsible, there are two dead bodies. Someone, or something, or someone posing as something, killed them. And Morgan is determined to find out who, or which, or both.

And she’s all too aware that there are more than enough two-legged monsters to go around – and get around – without needing to hunt for Bigfoot.

Escape Rating A-: So far, at least, the Monster Hunter Mystery series is cozy with a side of gruesome. Considering the series title, the gruesome part is kind of expected. It’s the cozy setting that throws things a bit for a loop, but in a very interesting way.

I liked this second book in the series better than the first, A Death in Door County, for reasons that I’m, of course, about to get into.

This second book does a great job of giving the reader enough logic and especially science to understand exactly why Morgan finds Bigfoot to be considerably further down the “plausible existability” without getting nearly so far into the weeds, or seaweeds as the case may be, as she did in that first book.

Also, the villains of this piece were all more or less in plain sight from the beginning, it was much more a question of what, precisely who was guilty of, and why. The red herrings were all mind-catchingly presented and really tasty. There were also plenty of them to serve as appetizers until the main course was revealed. And no, I didn’t guess which of the many possibilities was the actual killer until the end – because there was just so much guilt to go around. Just not the same guilt.

The resolution of the Bigfoot sightings was handled in a way that was entirely within the bounds of possibility and dove deeply into a bit of Wisconsin history that has lost a great deal of its luster over the decades, but once upon a time was something quite special.

And briefly is again, albeit in an entirely different way.

We’re also getting to know the ‘Scooby Gang’ that Morgan has gathered around herself, including her frenemy turned friend – if not more – Police Chief Jon Flanders. There’s a will they/won’t they relationship going on there that is moving at a glacial pace – for good and solid emotional reasons that it’s going to be fun to see thaw over the books ahead.

Plus there’s an EvilEx™ lurking in the background, the cause of the glacial pace of Morgan’s side of the relationship, just waiting to jump out of the shadows. I think I’m even more invested in seeing him get his just desserts than I am in Morgan and Jon’s relationship. And that’s definitely saying something!

There’s also a big plus to this series in the person of Morgan’s amazing dog, Newt. Rescuing Newt in the beginning of A Death in Door County marked the beginning of Morgan’s healing process AND Newt and his amazing nose are the perfect partners for Morgan’s monster hunting adventures.

I’m looking forward to more in this monstrously cozy, quirky mystery series. Because they just keep getting better and better!

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