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Trapline (An Allison Coil Mystery) by Mark…
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Trapline (An Allison Coil Mystery)

by Mark Stevens

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TRAPLINE is the third in a series of Alison Coil mysteries by Mark Stevens set in the Flat Top wilderness area of western Colorado. I haven't read the first two (ANTLER DUST and BURIED BY THE ROAN), but thought I'd give this one a try, although I seldom read mysteries, mostly because I prefer novels with well-developed characters to plot-driven novels, and mystery-thrillers usually fall into the latter category. TRAPLINE is a typical mystery in that respect, but the story-line is one that rips along at such a brisk pace that I was very quickly sucked into this surprisingly literate and extremely topical tale of "murder most foul," as Agatha Christie might have called it. In fact, the horses that served as one of the many forms of transport in this wilderness mystery made me keep remembering "Murder at the Gallop," a Miss Marple film based on a Christie novel (AFTER THE FUNERAL) that I watched at an Army post theater in Sinop, Turkey, more than fifty years ago.

But I digress. Because, although hunting guide Allison Coil does ride horses in her job, we also see SUV's, trucks, cars, helicopters and even ultralight aircraft featured throughout this story, with various elements "ripped from today's headlines," as Kirkus Reviews has already commented. It starts off with a bang, actually multiple bangs - shots by a hidden sniper attempting to murder a prominent Senate candidate during a campaign stop in Glenwood Springs. Many readers will undoubtedly flash back to the 2011 murder attempt on U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. And, in addition to the political assassination attempt angle, the hot button issue of immigration and illegal laborers from south of the border figure front and center in TRAPLINE. In fact, these illegals are brutally hunted and victimized and become pawns in a struggle between ruthless opposing factions of big business and powerful shadow corporations. Coil, along with her partner and lover, Colin, is drawn into this bloody mess when a mutilated half-corpse is discovered near one of their hunting camps in the Flat Tops. Local newspaperman Duncan Bloom becomes involved as he digs for stories about both crimes. Another unwitting participant in this increasingly complex intrigue is Alison's friend, Trudy Heath, a businesswoman who specializes in natural and organic foods with her company Down to Earth.

Allison and Trudy are closely connected in their passion for nature and protecting the wilderness. Allison's devotion is obvious when she says -

"You can't go back ... If you destroy the wilderness, it stays destroyed. It could take centuries or longer for nature to repair the damage ... We owe it to ourselves to preserve the wilderness. We owe it to the animals too."

Trudy's investment in nature is similar, in her beliefs about farming and growing things -

"She promoted going rustic. She was growing home crops with the same attitudes as farmers from the 1930s, before things got complicated ... Don't over fertilize, don't over water. Listen to your soil and sunlight, let it tell you what it wants and watch what thrives .. [She] emphasized care of the soil as a living organism and managing the ecosystem so the garden could take care of itself."

There is something of the hippy mentality of the sixties scattered throughout the story, and I thought often of Joni Mitchell's words, "And we've got to get ourselves / Back to the garden." There were also distinct 'foodie' touches much in evidence here, in the meals prepared and lunches packed. Things like "a pot of pork-less possole," with an "organic red wine." And Trudy is regionally famous for her "herbs, pestos and other natural food products." She and her closest neighbors, Allison and Colin, often enjoyed breakfasts like blueberry scones with poached eggs and broiled tomatoes. And there are lunch sandwiches she packs for them -

"Whole wheat baguette with cucumber, bean sprouts, tomatoes and some sort of olive tapenade that served, as Trudy put it, as a binding schmear."

These frequent foodie touches, which to me suggested just the tiniest hint of the snob, took me back to another regional mystery series I have on occasion read and enjoyed, Traverse City author Aaron Stander's Sheriff Ray Elkins novels, set in northwest Michigan. Elkins, a highly cerebral and literate lawman, is something of an epicurean gourmand and wine lover who often imports meals and ingredients from the trendy Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor.

TRAPLINE also brought to mind other books and stories read. The most famous would be Richard Connell's grim and much-anthologized "The Most Dangerous Game," a story I read in high school. Other lesser known books, all about the immigration and illegal workers issue, are John Mort's fine novel, THE ILLEGALS; and two non-fiction works, Johnny Rico's BORDER CROSSER and Ted Conover's COYOTES.

Mark Stevens, like Aaron Stander, knows not just his mysteries, but pop culture and literature in general, with some sly nods to yoga, George Strait, Rick Bass and Ralph Waldo Emerson. But perhaps the most important reference here is a fragmented quote at the novel's conclusion from Walt Whitman's melancholy "I Sit and Look Out," invoking "the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon the laborers, the poor ... the meanness and agony without end."

Yes, this is a mystery-thriller, and just one in an evolving series, but Mark Stevens comes across as a guy who reads a lot more than just mysteries (although I'll bet he knows his Christie and Doyle well). He is so much more than just another mystery-writing hack. He is a fellow booklover and it shines through between the clues. So yeah, I liked this book, and will recommend it unreservedly. ( )
  TimBazzett | Jan 6, 2015 |
Hunting guide Allison Coil and reporter Duncan Bloom find themselves thrown into the depths of a mystery as the story opens with the discovery of a badly-mauled body and an assassination attempt on a Senate candidate. While the investigation focuses on the possibility of a mountain lion attack to account for the dead man, an all-out hunt is launched to find the would-be assassin. But the investigation soon reveals something far more insidious than anyone could have imagined. And those responsible will do whatever it takes to keep their secrets, putting Allison, Duncan, and their friends in jeopardy as they become the hunted.

Set in Colorado, this gripping thriller, laced with political intrigue, keeps the reader guessing to the very last page. ( )
  jfe16 | Nov 4, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0738741647, Paperback)

A chewed-up corpse high in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area leaves Colorado hunting guide Allison Coil mystified. Obvious signs suggest the dead man is the victim of a mountain lion attack, but Allison’s instincts tell her otherwise. Miles away in down- town Glenwood Springs, a controversial candidate for U.S. Senate is shot during a campaign stop as news-paper reporter Duncan Bloom watches, dodging the long-range gunfire. Trapline follows Coil and Bloom as their investigations collide, exposing the dark depths of human indifference.

Praise:
“Thrilling, complex, and well-crafted with more twists and turns than a high road through the Rocky Mountains . . . No doubt about it, Mark Stevens is an author to watch!”—Margaret Coel, New York Times bestselling author of the Wind River Mystery series

“Trapline rings as true as the beautiful mountains and valleys that frame this exciting, tense drama of today’s Colorado.”—Manuel Ramos, award-winning author of
Desperado: A Mile High Noir

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:10 -0400)

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