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  • Writer's pictureKaren Herbert

The Dead of Sled Run: A Race to Stop Deadly Arsonist

Book review for Jean Rabe's Piper Blackwell mystery #6

Set in fictional Spencer County in rural southern Indiana, Jane Rabe's "The Dead of Sled Run” is a fast-paced mystery with Sheriff Piper Blackwell racing to find a deadly arsonist. Sixth in the series beginning with “The Dead of Winter,” Sheriff Blackwell is back with a another mystery to solve during the holiday season. My rating is 5 out of 5 stars!

(Book cover art courtesy of author Jean Rabe)

Summary, with no spoilers

The book opens with a wail of smoke detectors waking Chief Deputy Oren Rosenberg in the middle of the night. He struggles to rescue his cats and escape. Is this an accidental fire or arson?

"Bare-chested and in his pajama bottoms, he stumbled, gasping, out of the house, losing a slipper somewhere. Scorching inside, frigid out. The below-freezing winter air warred with the smoke he’d inhaled and made his chest tight and painful. He hurt terribly everywhere. Snow mixed with ice came sideways in a strong wind that battered him and made the walk slick."

(Rabe, Jean. The Dead of Sled Run: A Piper Blackwell Mystery (p. 7). Boone Street Press. Kindle Edition)

The pacing of "The Dead of Sled Run" is masterfully done, balancing moments of tension with slower scenes offering insight into investigative details and methodical detective work. Rabe conducted research on the crime of arson and it shows in this book. The fire takes place in the city of Santa Claus, where her father is chief of police, so Sheriff Blackwell has to take the lead.


Rabe’s prose paints vivid images of the Midwest landscape of rural Indiana. I’ve been to southern Indiana, and I love when local landmarks, like the St. Meinrad Abby, get a mention here and there – usually in a traffic report. She skillfully captures the essence of small-town life, where everyone knows everyone else's business, and new residents like the sheriff and her newest deputy, Basil Meredith, must work harder to prove themselves.

"The Dollar Store, lights just coming on and “open” sign going up; hardware store; a craft shop that shared space with a used books dealer; a dilapidated antique store with irregular hours … that was it. There used to be a florist, dress shop, shoe store, hair salon, furniture mart, and diner, all gone the way of many businesses in the small towns in the county, surrendered to the big box stores across the river and the convenience of on-line shopping."

(Rabe, Jean. The Dead of Sled Run: A Piper Blackwell Mystery (p. 107). Boone Street Press. Kindle Edition.)

Another strength of the Piper Blackwell series is how each supporting character is so sharply described you know exactly who they are. From an observant dog walker who provides key information, the persistent reporter, or the no-nonsense lawyer who arrives to represent the suspects.

"Brown pencil skirt, tweed suit jacket, cream colored blouse with a high collar, buttoned to the top. Polished leather shoes with only a slight heel, briefcase in one hand, designer purse slung over her other shoulder. Her hair was so blonde at first glance it appeared white, probably mid-length, but it was pulled tight in a bun, slicked straight back. Rimless glasses, small lenses, delicate birdlike features. Pretty, but severe. Looked to be in her early thirties. No coat, she must have left it in her car."

 Rabe, Jean. The Dead of Sled Run: A Piper Blackwell Mystery (p. 251). Boone Street Press. Kindle Edition.

Author Jean Rabe

I first got to know Jean Rabe when she was an experienced and revered Gamemaster for TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons. In the 1980s and 90s when I was a Midwest resident, I ran into Jean at small gaming events like QuinCon, RockCon, and Glathricon.

She has written more than forty science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and adventure novels. She’s also penned short stories and edited several magazines and anthologies. I'm proud to report her awards: the Faust, the grand master award of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, and the Illinois Author Project’s Soon-to-be Famous Award.

(Photo courtesy of Jean Rabe, with her beloved pug Wrinkles)

Piper Blackwell Series

"This is the sixth book in my Piper Blackwell series. The first, The Dead of Winter, was intended as a one-shot. But I was talked into The Dead of Night, and then I got the idea for The Dead of Summer…which gave me the notion for The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge, and after that I thought I should do something about Halloween, hence The Dead of AutumnThe Dead of Sled Run let me play in Santa Claus, Indiana, a real town I’ve visited a few times."

 (from Rabe's site)

If you are interested in reading the Piper Blackwell series, there is a sale happening right now on Amazon! Perfect for the reader that likes both police procedurals and cozy mysteries - this series is a little of both in my opinion.

(graphic courtesy of Jean Rabe's Facebook page)

(Disclaimer: I receive no compensation for this recommendation)

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