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A Novel

Book #1 of Northwoods

About The Book

“Riveting.” —People

In this “compelling and heartbreaking debut that marks a new and important voice in the mystery genre” (William Kent Krueger), a murder with ties to America’s opioid epidemic reveals the dark underbelly of an idyllic Midwestern resort town.

Eli North is not okay.

His drinking is getting worse by the day, his emotional wounds after a deployment to Afghanistan are as raw as ever, his marriage and career are over, and the only job he can hold down is with the local sheriff’s department. And that’s only because the sheriff is his mother—and she’s overwhelmed with small town Shaky Lake’s dwindling budget and the fallout from the opioid epidemic.

The Northwoods of Wisconsin may be a vacationer’s paradise, but amidst the fishing trips, campfires, and Paul Bunyan festivals, something sinister is taking shape. When the body of a teenage boy is found in the lake, it sets in motion an investigation that leads Eli to a wealthy enclave with a violent past, a pharmaceutical salesman, and a missing teenage girl. Soon, Eli and his mother, along with a young FBI agent, are on the hunt for more than just a killer in this thriller that is “not to be missed” (Mindy Mejia, USA TODAY bestselling author).


Chapter 1 1
Eli North stripped off his clothes and waded into the water. The lake muck cushioned his feet, and, when he was in up to his chest, he rested his plastic travel mug on the water’s surface and let his feet drift upward. He had always been good at floating.

The water had that mid-August feel, warm and slippery and heavy with microorganisms, and a flotilla of lily pads protected the tiny beach from water traffic. Not that anyone would be on the water at this time of night.

He tried to focus on the stars, the weightless sensation of floating. Meditation, they called it. A way to set aside negative thoughts. He put the mug to his lips and sucked the whiskey through his teeth so it wouldn’t spill into his nose. His lip was split, only partially healed, and the fiery liquor lanced the wound open again.

Michelle had agreed to meet him after work, but she’d left before he had shown up, two hours late. It was a sad routine, making promises, breaking promises, and there was a part of him that had been relieved when she asked for a divorce in July. At least now they could both move on, her to something better, and him to a place where he didn’t disappoint her all the time.

He thought of Andy.

Across the lake, somebody cranked up the radio. Etta James’s voice slid over the water, a nice change from the usual shit-kickin’ country coming from Dan Simons’s cabin. Classy with a K was how Michelle had always described Dan. Eli took another sip of whiskey and winced at the pain on his lip, at the throb of the surrounding bruise.

At last

My love has come along

My lonely days are over

And life is like a song

The music seemed custom-made for the setting, as if it was to be sung only on dark summer nights, against the rustle of cattails and the plinking call of chorus frogs. Maybe the vacationers wouldn’t mind Etta James. Maybe they wouldn’t call to complain. Maybe tonight he could just get drunk and float. He lay there, floating, for a long time, long enough to notice that the music was playing on repeat, which suited him just fine.

Still, it came as no surprise when the scanner crackled from under the heap of clothes on the sand. People with lake houses weren’t the type to let a noise disturbance go unreported.

“Eli, you there?”

He ignored the dispatch, vaguely wondered why he had bothered to bring the scanner to the beach in the first place, then breathed deeply and tilted his head backward until the water nearly covered his face. He relaxed his grip on the travel mug and let his arms and legs go limp in the soft, tepid water. The sound of the music was muffled now by the water over his ears, as if it was coming from another room, as if he had stepped away from a party. When the memories began to lap at the edges of his mind, he was ready for them, and pushed them away.


The bark of the scanner broke his concentration and he floundered. Lake water poured into his nose and he choked, then scrambled to right himself. He coughed and sputtered and had just caught his breath when he noticed something pale bobbing among the lily pads several yards away, nearly concealed by the thick vegetation and heavy darkness.

He swam toward the object, but the waves from his forward motion pushed whatever it was deeper into the lily pads with each stroke. He stilled, treaded water just enough to stay afloat until the waves subsided, then ducked his head under the water and swam toward where the object had disappeared into the thick plants. Three kicks and he surfaced.

His travel mug, still nearly full. Bobbing against a lily pad.

He grasped the handle of the mug and was surprised to find that his hand was shaking, that his heart was hammering in his chest in a way that had nothing to do with the distance he had swum.

What had he expected to find, floating in the darkness?

With a twist of his hips, he turned and began to swim back to shore, holding his drink out of the water. He stumbled on the sand, caught himself, got up again. When he reached his pile of belongings, he eased the lid off the mug and tipped the rest of the contents into his mouth. He stood still for a long moment, the back of his hand pressed to his lips, then bent over to grab the scanner.

About The Author

Photograph by Paulius Musteikis

Amy Pease is an alumna of the University of Wisconsin and the Madison Writer’s Studio, and works as a nurse practitioner, where she is a nationally recognized HIV specialist. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two children. Northwoods is her first novel.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (January 9, 2024)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668017265

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Raves and Reviews

"[An] indelible debut."

– The New York Times Book Review

"A riveting debut by a nurse practitioner with an insider's view of the opioid epidemic."

– People

"In NORTHWOODS, Amy Pease powerfully shatters the myth of tranquility in the beautiful north country of Wisconsin. Murder, drugs, and PTSD are among the demons that populate rural Sherman County, where lake resorts abound and the sheriff’s department is underfunded and understaffed. Pease’s brilliantly told story of a beleaguered mother-son law enforcement team is a compelling and heartbreaking debut that marks a new and important voice in the mystery genre. This is a novel you absolutely don’t want to miss."

– William Kent Krueger, New York Times bestselling author of THE RIVER WE REMEMBER 

"Get lost in Amy Pease’s words, get lost in the gripping personal debut of a complex new series—get lost in NORTHWOODS."

– Craig Johnson, author of the Walt Longmire series

"Outstanding . . . Pease’s sharp dialogue and well-rounded characters enrich the core mystery with an authentic representation of the everyday struggles of small-town Americans. Admirers of Eli Cranor will eagerly await more from this gifted writer."

– Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Through vivid settings and unforgettable characters, Amy Pease shatters the peaceful illusion of upper Midwest resort towns. I couldn’t get enough of Sheriff Marge North, a woman whose emotions are a vital asset to her job, and her son, Eli, whose buried trauma makes investigating a murder nearly impossible. NORTHWOODS is much more than a crime novel. It’s a story of how the world breaks us and yet sometimes, if we’re lucky, offers us a path forward. A debut not to be missed!"

– Mindy Mejia, USA Today bestselling author of TO CATCH A STORM and EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE

"If you’re going to these Northwoods for peace and quiet, think again. Amy Pease’s debut novel is a gorgeously rendered character study of a man, a mother, and a place with far too much going on under the surface. The perfect lakeside reading."

– Lori Rader-Day, award-winning author of THE DEATH OF US

"Amy Pease’s NORTHWOODS is a novel so skillfully immersive that it is hard to believe it is her first. Her story weaves a gripping murder mystery with compelling character studies; her Northern Wisconsin setting teems with secrets and menace. It all makes for a powerful, poised and propulsive novel that marks the emergence of an exciting new voice on the thriller scene."

– Stephen Amidon, author of LOCUST LANE and HUMAN CAPITAL

"Strong characters, a great plot, fascinating relationships, and excellent pacing . . . . A thought-provoking debut."

– Mystery and Suspense Magazine

"A breathtaking combination of police procedural and personal redemption. . . Written with a taut plot, scintillating dialogue and a sharp eye for detail, NORTHWOODS is the kind of debut that readers dream of: the announcing of an exciting new talent and the promise that more is to come. . . . Pease writes with tremendous compassion, but she is also brave and unflinching in her portrayals of difficult themes and situations, and her control of her pacing, plotting and tension is masterly."


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