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.

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

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 pace...my 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. 



A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

EAEF02DE-95E4-4263-8B38-68033E271E65A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (CIAG #7, WM a Québécois detective). Oops belatedly realized I missed a short story.   This story seemed crowded with suspects, left me feeling sad. Cw: addiction, murder,  gaslighting, past trauma:  emotional abuse 

Jean-Guy and Peter are both spiraling in this book but I only think one of them is likely to recover…they both have a long way to fall yet, as neither has fully faced up to their traumas and pain.

As a romance reader I’m fascinated by the marriages and relationships in these books and I hope that Gamache isn’t the only one who gets to have a beautiful one. 

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny


After the devastation to Three Pines after the last book where one of its most prominent citizens and beloved recurring character ends up accused of murder by Gamache and his team, it is no surprise that the book starts elsewhere but what is a surprise is that Gamache and many members of his team are on leave, recovering from a devastating event.   Gamache is deeply haunted by what happened to him and his team and Penny slowly rolls it out to readers as Gamache and Beauvoir struggle through the aftermath.   I loved the complicated triple stranded storytelling in this book.  While Beauvoir returns to Three Pines to re-examine the previous case, Gamache is in Quebec City, visiting his old mentor and boss when get caught up in a murder at an forgotten anglophone library, known as the Lit and His.  The murder unearth an even deeper mystery about the final resting place of Samuel de Champlain.  The strands interconnect, tangle and help Beauvoir and Gamache reconnect with themselves and their work while at the same time exploring what it is to live in community and the risks and rewards of engaging rather than hiding from each other.  I was riveted once again.

Every book I read makes me realize just how narrow a view of Three Pines and Gamache we get in the show.


5. Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (CIAG #6, WM Quebecois detective) Triple-stranded storytelling, where strands intersect, interconnect, tangle and in the end resolve multiple murders and disappearances across the centuries.  CWs: murder, terrorism, abduction, guns, shooting, prejudice, medical procedures.



Reckless by Lauren Dane

RecklessMiles Brown is a second-generation rockstar who falls hard for the lead singer for their new opening band.  Harlow Martin's band is on the verge of breaking out and stepping out of her Metal-God Dad's shadow and the last thing she needs is to have people thinking she sleeping her way into the top.

BiWM/WW,  Nepo-baby Rockstars 

Cw: Toxic Parent, references to past drug use, Past Trauma: Child Abuse


While I deeply enjoyed seeing glimpses of all my favorite Brown Family and Hurley boys faves, seeing their kids all grown up, I liked the outline of this book a whole lot more than I enjoyed reading it.  While the Brown Family books that were formative in my erom reading days, were brimming with sexual tension, confrontations and conflicts, this book was just muted in comparison.  While there are fights, confrontations, and emotional moments...they just didn't back the same punch...distanced by well-reasoned and well-intentioned inner voices of the protagonists, who process their feelings in the best ways.  I still read any following books, but I'll wait for the library copy like I did with this one.