R.V. Doon

Doon Sleuth & Setting Review: Astray in Couper

Doon Sleuth & Setting Review: Astray in CouperAstray in Couper by R. Marquez
Series: A Matty Cruz Mystery #1
on May 31, 2014
Genres: Cozy Mystery
Pages: 66
When the economic downturn ends Matty Cruz’s corporate career, she impulsively moves to Couper, Washington, a tree-filled city nestled on the banks of the Columbia River. Unbeknownst to her, the charming town has one of the highest violent-crime rates in the Pacific Northwest.

A depressed Matty entertains herself by reading news stories of the mayhem that occurred the night before in her neighborhood, until one of those stories ends up on her doorstep in the form of a soot-covered dog. Matty soon realizes that the poor creature must have belonged to the recently deceased Agnes Whitshaw, an impoverished, old woman who lived nearby and died in a house fire.

Matty reluctantly abandons her reclusive ways as she learns to take care of her furry houseguest, while at the same time she tries to find “Poochy” a forever home. Along the way, she interacts with the colorful Couperites who give her advice on dog ownership and bits of information concerning Agnes that make Matty wonder whether the fire that killed the fierce, old woman was set on purpose.

Matty pieces together the truth, but not before she attracts the attention of the murderers, and they come after her and the terrier. Will Matty be able to save herself—and Poochy—from Couper’s dark side?


The Sleuth

The sleuth in R. Marquez’s first cozy mystery is Matty Cruz, a no-nonsense woman, with a strong sense of fairness and justice. She’s introduced to the reader when she points out to a shifty cashier that he’d shorted the older man who’d just purchased a lottery ticket–one dollar. It’s clear that Matty considers a one dollar theft as important as a hundred-dollar theft. She couldn’t pretend that she didn’t notice. I really liked this character for pointing theft out when she could’ve remained silent. The reader quickly learns Matty is in her fifties, lost her job when she left to care for her dying mother, lives alone, and has lost everything she valued in her life. To top it off she’s left California, a state she knew well, and as crazy as it sounds, she moved to scenic Couper, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest to start over.


Matty hasn’t left her house in over a week. She prefers lying on her sofa wearing her pajamas and robe while watching TV.  She’s is in conflict with her neighbors and her savings are dwindling, but she has no where else to go. Yes, Matty is struggling with the weight of her depression, but the reader can hear a cracking noise in the first pages as she begins to break free from her gray-shrouded miasma. The chisel that reduces her to mush is a dog, a terrier mix, that survived a fire. The miserable dog arrives on her doorstep dark with soot and in need of food and water. Matty has little experience with pets, but this dog weaves its magic as dog lovers know all to well. I loved the growing bond between Matty and Pretty Girl, if fact, all dog lovers will.


The author weaves subtle themes around the protagonist, her stray pooch, and the antagonists she encounters. By trying to find the dog’s rightful owners instead of dropping it off at the pound, she finds herself in the middle of mystery.


Sleuth Sidekicks: Pretty Girl, the stray terrier, who leads Matty into a murder investigation.


Detective Phil Bester is introduced briefly, and the reader gets the impression that he’ll be her “inside” sidekick. For now, we know he’s thin, tall, and married.


The Setting


Couper is vastly different from Matty’s previous home in California. The people are weird, it’s colder, and the streets aren’t as well-kept. The author does a great job of coloring in the setting. Matty chose to live in Couper because of its natural beauty. She likens Couper to being dropped in the middle of a forest near the Colombia River.


The setting is deftly shadowed throughout the story, it can be cold and hard-edged or a jaw-dropping moment of natural awe. It’s clear Couper may be beautiful, but it’s not a place for hot-house flowers. My impression is Matty is tough enough to thrive in Couper, and I’ll be checking out her new forays.

About R. Marquez

R.Marquez resides in the Pacific Northwest, a place that inspired her to create the fictional city of Couper, WA, located across the Columbia River from Portland, OR. All her stories either occur in Couper or are inhabited by its denizens.

She is presently working on “The Couper Vendetta,” the fifth book in the Matty Cruz mystery series. She hopes to have her first six books published on Amazon before the end of 2014.

Her short stories have been published in Over My Dead Body!, Mysterical-E, KZINE ,and Crimespree magazines, among others.

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