“Trapline” is the third book in Mark Stevens’ series featuring Allison Coil, a hunting guide with a talent for looking beyond the obvious in order to solve crimes in her beloved Colorado mountains. With a past that still haunts her, she is happiest away from crowds of people, following the trails into the hills on her horse, or guiding hunting parties to bag big game. Her boyfriend, Colin, a hunk that also works for her, is making serious inroads into her heart. Who can resist a guy that knows how to use an atlatl and understands without asking, what she needs?
A mangled body is found near a campsite, and Allison’s investigation leads to a horrifying discovery. A Senatorial candidate is shot during an outdoor speech in a nearby town, but why? And does the shooting have anything to do with the body in the mountains? As the parallel storylines sizzle and explode in “Trapline,” Stevens reveals a lot about the depths to which humans will go when greed is involved. We learn more about one of this country’s hot button topics: undocumented workers. Problems with the border, people who seek to exploit the undocumented and/or transient workers, the impact on the economy, and the scandal of private prisons, are all explored from several sides of the complex issues.
Allison’s best friend, Trudy, the pesto queen and kitchen cook delivering to local stores in book #2, has grown into a full fledged regional farmer and business woman who supplies assorted organic, locally sourced goodies throughout the region. This character is so well-developed that I felt compelled to search for pesto recipes while reading “Buried by the Roan.” A vegan pal shared a great one.
The survival of Trudy’s business may be at stake in “Trapline,” because Trudy hired workers that she thought were legal, but may not all be. She has a few that she knows very well, but as in any growing organization that hires temporary farm workers, it’s practically impossible to know everyone’s story and how they came to work there. Her boyfriend has been in charge of managing the company and she has happily given him more and more control. Can a couple survive when linked together in both business and love?
The unspoiled mountains of Colorado take center stage again, with discussions about the tugs of war between commercial development and a wish to keep the wild safe and protected from greedy businessmen – businessmen who seem ignorant of the fact that destroying the very wilderness that provides their livelihood gets them to sum zero. Nobody wins.
Readers of “Buried by the Roan” will recognize the central characters in “Trapline,” with Duncan Bloom taking a greater role this time, and others changing/growing as the books continue. Allison is tenacious about her love of the high country and fights to keep its reputation and glory intact, despite several threats to her own safety. She is tenacious about maintaining her privacy as well, but a few edges have softened since her arrival in the first book, and Stevens lets us see more of the vulnerabilities and strengths of this very human lead character.
Stevens is adept at weaving the majesty of the Colorado terrain with the serious societal and political topics he brings to each book. With layers of compelling story and a solid group of friends in Allison, Trudy and the rest of the tight-knit crew, he creates page-turners that linger with us long after the books have ended.
“Trapline” won the 2015 Colorado Book Award for Mystery, and the 2015 Colorado Authors League Award for Genre Fiction. Deservedly so.
Read the review of “Buried by the Roan,” here.
“Lake of Fire,” the fourth in the series, will be available on September 8, 2015.
For more about Mark Stevens and his work, please visit www.writermarkstevens.com
Finding a body in the barn, complete with a pitchfork sticking out of its neck, would not be my favorite ‘before dinner’ activity. Organic farmer, Cam Flaherty, in Edith Maxwell’s “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” doesn’t like it either. My grandfather had several barns and not one of them came decorated with a pitchfork sticking out of a body. He had the pitchfork, just not the body. Untidy, to say the least.
Flaherty has taken over the farm from her great-uncle and dreams of getting certified in order to sell organic produce to the locavores (people who eat locally produced food). She is not allowed to use chemicals to fertilize plants or kill bugs and has to follow those practices for several years before being awarded the coveted certificate. Her one employee, Mike Montgomery, doesn’t see the point, is tired of handpicking beetles off the potatoes, and stores decidedly toxic pesticide in the barn. Flaherty fires him for endangering her business – on the opening day of the harvest share. She’s only in year one of the certification process and can’t afford his sloppy work habits or his negative attitude.
Despite Montgomery’s absence, Flaherty has a successful first day with the customers and is hopeful about a good first season – as long as she can get volunteers to assist a few hours a week. But, six hours after she fires him, Montgomery is deader than dead inside the hoop house. Flaherty just might be the chief suspect in his murder, what with opportunity, suspected motive, and the blood on her clothes.
Unhappily, Flaherty discovers that not everyone is overjoyed about her dream. Some of the local farmers don’t want the extra effort of organic, see her as tough competition and may even think that the wrong person wound up with the pitchfork problem.
“A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” provides a peek into the life of a farmer: the dawn to dusk hours, the weeding, the seeding, the pests, the planting, the tilling, the harvesting and more. We get to see the business side of a modern farm, with websites and marketing to contend with in addition to the age-old problem of equipment breaking down just when you need it the most. Maxwell herself ran an organic produce farm for about six years, putting in eight-hour days in order to get the work done. She says she had no animals on the farm to deal with at the time, which allowed her to focus on the crops. I take care of flowers in my 1/3-acre backyard for an hour or so a day and I can’t imagine doing the weeding and pest control no matter what the weather with several acres of produce. It is backbreaking work. Big thank-yous to the farmers of this world!
Maxwell delivers an assortment of quirky characters, supportive friends, and suspects aplenty for the murder as well as later sabotage against the farm. Cam Flaherty’s childhood friend, Ruth Dodge (now a police officer) especially well drawn with marriage and job challenges, stands up satisfactorily for Flaherty when she can, but remains professional when she has to.
The subplots of illegal immigration, a past that still haunts Flaherty, as well as a budding love interest, are interwoven nicely with the stories of tasty meals prepared with produce fresh from the garden. “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” ends as it began, in fine dramatic fashion with Flaherty proving to be a truly appealing lead character. She has foibles like the rest of us, and is able to deal with challenging issues when the situation calls for it.
Edith Maxwell’s comments at ‘Jungle Red Writers’ about being a farmer can be read here:
For more information about Maxwell, as well as her most recently published book featuring Cam Flaherty, “ ’Til Dirt Do Us Part,” please visit www.edithmaxwell.com