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University of Wisconsin Press
Door County is about 200 miles north of Chicago in Wisconsin. It is so beautiful that it is often called the Riviera of the Mid-West. Door County is blessed with magical trees and spectacular vistas of the lake and the bay. It is where the water of Lake Michigan and the bay meet.

However, there are many rocks under the water and dangerous currents. Hundreds of ships have gone down there. French-Canadian traders and sailors called it Death’s Door. The name stuck.

Patricia Skalka is the author of this intriguing mystery book. She grew up in Chicago’s southside—Hegewisch neighborhood. And her characters are very much down-to-earth persons you could meet in Chicago. Before becoming an author, she worked at Reader’s Digest as a staff writer, reviewer, and editor. Now, she lives part of the year in Chicago and part in Door County.  Before working at Reader’s Digest, she earned a Bachelor Degree from the University of Dayton. The focus of her degree was Journalism and Communication.

Her “Door County” Mysteries are so well-written and widely read that she was elected President of the Chicagoland Chapter of Sister in Crime. Patricia Skalka’s main character is a former Chicago police detective by the name of Dave Cubiak. He is only 45 years old, but grief has prematurely aged him with lines on his face and his dark hair now streaked with gray. Grief and alcohol have also done that.

His wife and daughter were killed by a hit-and-run driver. He was so overcome with sorrow that he could not function as a policeman.

He came to Door County to find peace. He became a park ranger. However, the local sheriff was incompetent and Cubiak was asked, many times, for advice. He uses the police skills he used in Chicago. After much investigative success, he was elected sheriff.

Cubiak “had an uncanny ability to read people. He wasn’t always correct…but most of the time his initial impressions were on target.”

He is in another part of the Green Arbor Lodge, but when he hears a woman scream, he goes immediately to help a man who has had a heart attack. This happened at the conference of the Institute for Progressive Medicine held at the Green Arbor Lodge convention center. The Institute for Progressive Medicine promises miracle cures to people who have no hope. It promises to “cure” people with Down Syndrome, autism, and people crippled by polio.

When Cubiak gets to the room, a doctor is performing CPR on the man on the floor. The doctor is Doctor Harlau Sage. Sage is tall with “thick hair that was more salt than pepper” and he has “murky brown eyes.”

Sage pompously identifies himself as the Director of the Institute with the body of the former Director on the floor and still warm. Not only does Cubiak find him to be arrogant and obnoxious, but he has a sixth sense feeling that Sage is hiding something. Thus, develops the major theme of the book.

Much later in his investigation, Cubiak talks with an old man who was grounds-keeper at the Insane Asylum the IPM had used. The asylum was located in the remote, northern part of Wisconsin. The old man tells of the brutal and sadistic experiments that he heard about as a boy.

“For the first time, Cubiak wondered if perhaps the dead man on the floor had been murdered and his death made to look like a heart attack. (Dr. Sage commits suicide soon after.) The doctor’s experiments were decades old, but if someone had learned about his research methods, someone related to one of his victims might have decided to get even. Revenge had a long shelf life.”

These quotes show how a person’s emotions affect how we see nature:

--as Cubiak travels to the burned out and long abandoned insane asylum, a feeling of foreboding comes to him.

--“The forest was a world unto itself, and for twenty minutes, his jeep was the only vehicle on the road…The few homes along the route…seemed to be more threatened than sheltered by the surrounding tall pines. In the dense forest, he felt as if he were alone in the world. The last surviving man. Besides the trees, there was only a river…In several spots, the river flattened our into calm, wide pools, but in one stretch it passed through a jumble of massive boulders. The rocks peeked out above the surface, and the water foamed and protested as it pushed downstream.”

--“It was twilight, and to the west, the remnants of an orange sunset stretched across the horizon. In the other direction the first star already glimmered in the charcoal sky above the lake. The sheriff liked the in-between feeling of the hour. It was an interlude that offered a place to rest between the demands of the day and the solitude of the night.”

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