Kelley Armstrong's Rockton/Casey Duncan Series 1 Review

Genre:  Mystery/Thrillers with Romantic Elements.

Tropes:  found family, small town, new start. 

Main Characters: 

Casey Duncan, Chinese/Filipino/Scottish Canadian, former police detective with a killer secret.

Eric Dalton, White, wilderness-born sheriff of secret small town in the Yukon.

Series CWs: Guns, murder, mutilation, medical procedures, sex work, slut-shaming, kidnapping, rape, beatings, abandonment, drugs, cop MCs, abduction, torture, violence, harassment, serial killer, betrayal, mentions of molestation, toxic parents, past trauma: child death, drug use, homophobia, racism, brainwashing, blackmail, alcoholism. ( and probably more I am missing).

The Set-up: As a young adult Casey Duncan made a series of terrible choices, leading to a traumatic assault and the murder of her former boyfriend.  To spite all those who thought she would never recover, she worked harder than ever to fulfill her childhood dream of being coming a cop, but ten years on, her life is pretty bleak. She lives for her job and has few connections outside her regular hookup (whose last name she hasn't bothered to learn) and her childhood best friend, whose relationship drama and toxic ex, prompt them to escape north to a secret town in the Yukon for a few years of sanctuary.  Rockton is not at all what Casey expected and so much more.  It upends her expectations and transforms her in ways she could have not imagined when she signed up for a sixth month stay.

While Rockton is a small town, the setting is not one of regular small town since everyone there is in hiding, from consequences of past mistakes, from vindictive exes or folks even more dangerous and increasingly a greater share of those residents are also fleeing from the law.  Everyone there has paid a price for this chance to start over, for temporary sanctuary. But there are also two Rocktons, one made up of the temporary residents and the other the council, the off-site group of investors that keep the town going, recruiting and vetting new residents and bankrolling the operation.  While residents might have been promised a safe place to lay low and regroup, the council is not a non-profit and has been increasingly sending less than worthy but high-paying criminals.  Trying to keep the peace in this fragile community is Eric Dalton, the only permanent resident of the town, its sheriff and the only child ever raised in Rockton. He is deeply suspicious of Casey even as he is desperate for someone with her skills as there have been more and more sinister incidents happening in town.


I was totally engrossed and sucked in by this series. I loved the complexities faced by Casey and Eric as they try to solve big and small mysteries, and untangle their feelings for those around them.  Who can they trust, how do you keep people safe, who am I really, who am I responsible for, what are the best choices when you only have bad ones?  There is a lot going on in each book and I loved how Casey and Eric so often have to re-evaluate their choices in light of new information and unearthed connections, and there is always something deeper and truer to uncover.   I am eager to see what Armstrong does in the 2nd series. 


Mini-Reviews from Twitter:

23. City of the Lost by Kelly Armstrong (Rockton/Casey Duncan #1, AW/WM, Mystery/Thriller series). Hidden city, hidden agendas & hidden murders. CWs: Guns, murder, mutilation, medical procedures, sex work, slut-shaming, kidnapping, rape, beatings, abandonment, drugs, cop MCs.

24. A Darkness Absolute (Rockton #3, WM/AW — Chinese/Filipino heroine Mystery/thriller with Rom Elements) gripping, emotional and invested in this little town. Cw: murder, abduction, rape, torture, guns, violence, harassment.

25. This Fallen Prey by Kelley Armstrong (AW/WM, mystery/thriller with rom elements). So much running around in the woods! CWs: murder, serial killer, betrayal, mentions of molestation, torture.

26. Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong (AW/WM, mystery with rom elements) yay for complicated small town dynamics and lots of theories coming home to roost! Casey’s sister! Cw: murder, toxic parents, past trauma: child death, drug use, medical procedures

27. Alone in the Wild by Kelley Armstrong (AW/WW, mystery with rom elements) HUGE revelations and complications as Casey and Eric try to find the parents of foundling child. CWs: murder, homophobia, racism, medical procedures, kidnapping, brainwashing.

28. Stranger in Town by Kelley Armstrong ( AW/WM, Mystery/Thriller with Rom Elements) a massacre in the woods, big pharma & decades old plot. Finally resolution to one of the big mysteries and the start of the end game. CWs: murder, kidnapping.

29. The Deepest of Secrets by Kelley Armstrong (AW/WM, mystery thriller with Rom Elements). With council decided does anything still matter? Of course it does to Casey & Eric and the Rockton crew. CWs: murder, blackmail, alcoholism, betrayals.

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (CIAG 12, WM Québécois detective) . Up way too late but I needed to finish it and then cry myself out. Ooof (CWs: murder, manipulation, suicide, coercion, abuse, racism, sex work, drug use, police abuse).

In this installment Gamache continues to reckon with his the varied consequences of his choices, and the corruption that he uncovered in the Surete, by accepting the lead position in the Surete Academy, to uncover what damage is being done to the cadets there, feeding the corrupt system in the police force and part of the rot not yet rooted out.  He is ambitious, confident and brave but  through it all Gamache is confronted by one of his favorite proverbs "Don't believe everything you think" at every turn, and the cost of him believing a little too much in his ability to fix things.  When near the end of the novel Gamache restates his core believes, it totally earned.

"We are all of us marred and scarred and imperfect. We make mistakes. We do things we deeply regret. We are tempted and sometimes we give in to that temptation. Not because we’re bad or weak, but because we’re human. We are a crowd of faults. But know this.”..

“There is always a road back. If we have the courage to look for it, and take it. I’m sorry. I was wrong. I don’t know.” He paused again. “I need help. Those are the signposts. The cardinal directions.”

Chloe Neill and Chicagoland Vampires mini-reviews

The Heroic Hearts Anthology series reminded me of how engrossing it can be sink my teeth (heh) into a new urban fantasy universe.  Based on the short story I read I wanted to read more.  The short story:


Silverspell by Chloe Neill. A Katana wielding Vampire princess & An Alpha shifter prince team up to track down a coven of witches looking to stop or start the apocalypse. Intrigued CWs: murder, kidnapping, magical coercion.


It featured characters from Neill's second series featuring vampires in Chicago, The Heirs of Chicagoland series.  I quickly read the first two, before wanting to go back and read the original series.  I then proceed to read about the original couple,  Ethan and Merit, who have a hot and cold relationship through the early books.  I am not sure I am going to read all  of the original series, but I know have enough context to really sink into the second series.

Min Reviews for the Heirs of Chicagoland Series:

Wild Hunger by Chloe Neill (UF with Rom elements, WW/WM, Chicago-set) Elisa, the only vampire born not made, returns home to Chicago to grapple with secrets, new love interest and try to keep fairies from derailing peace talks. (CWs: murder, kidnapping, betrayal).

Wicked Hour by Chloe Neill (UF with Rom Elements, WW/WM, Road-trip). Elisa keeps growing into her power, coming to terms with her monster and falling deeper in love with Connor. (CWs: murder, betrayal by leadership ignoring a sexual predator) . Highly enjoyable cast.

Shadowed Steel by Chloe Neill (PNR/UF WM/WW, Heirs of Chicagoland #3). Consequences of choices push Elisa to claim her ground & independence and forge a stronger bond with Connor (CWs: stalking, murder, kidnapping, mentally ill antagonist).

Devouring Darkness by Chloe Neill (Heirs of Chicagoland 4, UF /PNR, WM/WW)I’ve really enjoyed how Neill has had the heirs grow in power, experience & independence from their parents while still loving them! (CWs: prejudice, blood magic, betrayal) .

I really love how Connor and Elise talk through their conflicts and set boundaries with each other and their parents.  A lot of the series focuses on this second generation finding their place and their own identities while trying to keep loving relationships with their powerful parents.  Learning how to ask for help and learning when to go it alone.


Mini Review for Chicagoland Vampires:

Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill (Chicagoland Vampires 1, UF with Rom WM/WW) Turned without her consent, Merit must overcome her resentment to work with her new Liege to unconver who is targeting and killing women. CWs: violence, murder, toxic parents, HP references.

Friday Night Bites by Chloe Neill (Chicagoland Vampires, UF, WM/WM)  Merit's romantic entanglements prove a flashpoint in her relationship with her best-friend Mallory who is dealing with her own monumental life change.  Neill doesn't hesitate to show Merit make mistakes in dealing with people she loves and care about, including being unfair to Morgan, Mallory and Catcher. CWs: murder, betrayal, violence, HP references.

Twice Bitten by Chloe Neill (UF, WM/WW, Chicagoland Vampires series). Ethan is an ass but he is 400 yr vamp.  Merit and Ethan consummate their attraction but Ethan immediately backtrack when he is unsettled by the strength of his interest. CWs: murder, betrayal, violence, HP references.


I am not a huge fan of hot/cold relationships and unilateral decision making so  I am not sure if I am going to sign on for the rest of this series, but I do enjoy the politics, especially the tensions between groups that public versus those who are closeted.  The major themes revolve around solidarity and mutual aid which have strong queer undertones.


Heroic Hearts Anthology

Heroic heartsLast year when this came out I put it in my mental wish-list...but I just wasn't going to plunk down full price for a collection of short stories where I was only likely to read 2 of the stories.  Thankfully one of the libraries I used finally bought the audio version!

I jumped in and read the last one first,  Patricia Briggs whose story was Asil Moreno, who is one my favorite characters.  It was very much worth the wait, I then read Anne Bishop's story, which I enjoyed while cringing again at the brutality.  To my great surprise, I ended up reading and enjoying almost all the stories and I have gone out already grabbed books by several of the authors (Annie Bellet, Chloe Neill & Jennifer Brozek) whose books I had never read before.

  • Dating Terrors by Patricia Briggs. After reading Asil in Roses in Winter…I remembered that I hadn’t tracked this story down yet! And now I want a dozen stories of Asil, Ruby & her gang of ghost “hunters”. CWs: abuse, abduction, violence

  • The Dark Ship by Anne Bishop. I love the world of the Others but oof there is always so much brutality! Set in the Mediterranean CWs: toxic abusive patents, scarring, threat of SA, fascism, violence, gore.

  • Little Things by Jim Butcher. The narration by James Marsters is what sold me on this story of sprite defending his Knight when all the big people dismiss them. CWs: violence, grief.

  • Comfort Zone by Kelley Armstrong. I liked how complicated all the conflicts in this story are, how nothing is simple but everything is, in that the best thing to do is to talk to each other. CWs: violence, murder, lying, minor in danger.

  • Train to Last Hope by Annie Bellet. Despair drove them apart when their teen daughter disappeared, but one last lead, brings them back together. Cried in the car listening. CWs: grief, murder, violence, kidnapping.

  • Fire Hazard by Kevin Hearne. Extremely goofy story, Oberon, Atticus’ wolfhound relates the story set during the Australian Wildfires. CWs: violence, arson, ass candles.

  • Graves Gambles by RR Virdi. Body jumping (quantum leap-like) monster hunter shuts down luck stealing leprechaun CWs: child abduction, murder, suicide. Ick, not for me.

  • Silverspell by Chloe Neill. A Katana wielding Vampire princess & An Alpha shifter prince team up to track down a coven of witches looking to stop or start the apocalypse. Intrigued CWs: murder, kidnapping, magical coercion.

  • Troll Life by Kerrie L. Hughes. Station Master of a sentient rail line protect young runaways from vampires and wizards. CWs: slavery, kidnapping, abuse, violence.

  • The Return of the Mage by Charlaine Harris. Mercenaries go back for one of their mages 20 years after he went missing, nothing is what one expects. I liked it but it felt like set up. CWs: violence, deaths, toxic rulers.

  • The Vampires Karamazov by Nancy Holder.  Such a snore. Not for me. Cw: murder, cat calling, violence, spiritual elements

  • The Necessity of Pragmatic Magic by Jennifer Brozek.  Old witches avert disaster at a little museum. Loved the interplay between them. Would read more CWs: mental clouding,




The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny

12. The Nature of the Beast of Louise Penny (CIGM #11, WM Quebecois, CW: Child Death, Serial Killer, Child killer)

I am going to let this book sit with me a bit.  I don't feel ready to jump into the next because of what wringer the residents of Three Pines have been through already.  We learn so much more about Ruth and explicitly explore the notion of Three Pines as sanctuary, heaven paradise or alternatively limbo, hell or a prison.  I looked at Gamache in a new light as he let Chief Inspector Lacoste make her own choices but at the same time didn't seem to shy away from taking responsibility as he did in the previous book.  I really struggled with the gambit Lacoste & Gamache agreed on near the end of the book and how much risk they put on the young adjunct.  I do think it will be very natural for Gamache to take on a role at the Surete Academy.


CW:  Guns, murder, child murder, war crimes, serial killer

Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman

1E82C1BF-4553-40A0-9A81-FFD4B7C835C3Ivelisse Housman is the daughter of my childhood best-friend.  It has been a joy watching her pitch this story on Twitter to holding her book in my hand. I loved noticing little way Housman included hints of her Puerto Rican  that heritage in a fantasy setting like the way she refers to her mother as Mami.  Housman like Seelie, the main character, is autistic. I loved how Seelie is loved and accepted by her family, while others struggle to understand her differences. 

 11. Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman (YA Fantasy, authentic Austistic Rep, White Latine author, First book in series) Sisters caught up in caper, kidnapped by magical compass. Cw: violence, bigotry, murder, enchantments (non-consent). Cw: violence, bigotry, murder, enchantments (non-consent). 

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

66A4FBBA-DAD8-4116-B750-05EB86D43DC9Oooooooooh ooooh. Wow.  This books so many things so well. It upends some our most beloved characters once more and opens them and their hurts in deeper ways. Bad I knitted and speed listened to the last hours of this book I was riveted, tense, wounded and blown away.

Just going to keep riding this binge barge because if I stop now I might not have the heart to keep on going as I’m sure stormy seas are still ahead! 

10. The Long Way Home by Louise Penny ( CIGM #10, WM Quebecois detective)  Gamache’s retirement is interrupted to search for a missing friend & the search unearths so much more.  Fantastic, gripping & heartbreaking. Cw: murder, grief, betrayal, mental illness 

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

HowthelightgetsinAfter the way The Beautiful Mystery ended, I desperately needed the next book. However all my libraries had long waits for the ebooks and digital audio copies.  Hoopla to the rescue!  My local library only recently started offering Hoopla access, so I stuck my earbuds in, downloaded the book, and basically spent the next day and half listening compulsively

I find it fascinating how much variation there is in the series about the time gaps between the events in each book.  Some are a year apart, others a few months, others almost a year, etc.  So many series stick to set time pattern, it is refreshing and sometimes surprising just how much or how little time has passed, especially in contrast to the time period that that the books tend to actually cover, often times no more than a week or so.

I read How the Light Gets In at a frenetic audio speed pumped up to my listening limit of 1.75 (which I realize is glacial compared to the speeds some of my friends do).  And the story's pacing seemed to match my own,  Gamache racing around between Three Pines and Montreal, trying to put the final pieces together to two tragedies, unraveling ancient plots and recent menaces.

Ruth continues to be my favorite resident of Three Pines but in this book Myrna really gets a chance to shine.  I loved how both of them held the Three Pines crew together and rescued Gamache and his team yet again.

I am going to take a few days, before picking up the next book, The Long Way Home, because I was spoiled by a major plot point in that one...and I need to let the events in this one just sink in a little bit.

9. How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (CIGM #9, WM Quebecois, Big Mid-series climax) Gamache under siege & the pacing matched my frantic mood & served a much need resolution. Cw: homophobia, murder, betrayals, drug use, addiction, police corruption.


The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

37559E62-C218-4456-A26B-D1FDB70B25BBA murder in an isolated monastery, bring Gamache and Beouvoir to the cloistered community where glances, silences and the smallest of tremors are magnified into blaring communication.  

I was spoiled for a major character conflict in this book and it made it so hard to read as I saw it happening.  The relationship of Gamache’s team are so intimate and central to the books that this blow was excruciating building as it does in conflicts in previous books. 

So much of this book is about intentions, the desire to protect and care for others and small choices with big consequences.   I’m so glad I’m reading this series as backlist and don’t have to wait a year or more between books! 

I loved that the audio ended with a snippet of a Gregorian chant! 

cw: murder, homophobia, drug use, addiction, PTSD.