Coeur d’Alene Waters — Book Synopsis


A dark literary thriller of depth and dimension, Coeur d’Alene Waters follows Matt Worthson, a northern Idaho Sheriff’s deputy searching for a murderer and along the way finding out the truth about the never-solved Sunshine Mine disaster. The debut offering from Northwest journalist Ned Hayes.

What is it about the Pacific Northwest that leads some into dark worlds of violence and despair? Had one-time north Idaho journalist Ned Hayes made this tantalizing question the centerpiece of his debut novel, he might have only created a derivative retelling of an all-too-familiar serial killer plot. Instead, he takes the idea for this well-written literary thriller from the historical facts of the still-unsolved Sunshine Mine disaster in 1972, and winds it tight around the troubled central figure of Matt Worthson, a one time candidate for Sheriff in Coeur d’Alene.

Worthson, suffering from a broken marriage and his brutal political loss, is pulled into a tangled history of corrupt politics, separatist plots, and powerful interests who control the lucrative Idaho mining industry. The novel opens with the discovery of the mutilated body of a chaplain who works with the police department, and seems to point towards a local serial killer who is again on the loose. But this tried and true plot soon moves in a more complicated direction, as Worthson’s own motivations and past crimes are brought under the microscope.

Partnered with Lieutenant Russell White – a more able politician and an increasingly erratic friend – Worthson finds himself unexpectedly encumbered with a young wanna-be white supremacist who knows about his missing son. The story of the Sunshine Mine disaster itself is told in a flashback that is both compelling and heart-rending, as Worthson struggles with his father’s impending death, and the secrets his father still refuses to reveal about the mine disaster – the truth of which has important implications for Worthson’s investigation.

These disparate threads are brought together by Hayes, and Coeur d’Alene Waters accelerates towards a dark yet profoundly fitting finish. Hayes creates a dark, gritty saga with a protagonist who is deeply imperfect, yet strives always towards redemption.

Coeur d’Alene Waters is a solidly written murder mystery with a haunting conclusion, reminiscent of the best of Ridley Pearson or the early work of fellow Washington writer Jess Walter.

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