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By Mary Daheim

Ballantine, 2011 ($25.00)
ISBN-10: 0345502574
ISBN-13: ISBN: 978-0-345-50257-5 e-Book ISBN: 978-0-345-51909-2

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Emma Lord, editor and publisher of the Alpine Advocate, and the other residents of the town of Alpine, Washington, are incensed at the poachers who have been denuding nearby forests of the old growth maples. Try as they might, the local law enforcement agencies haven't been able to catch the crooks in the act. They think they may have one of the gang members when a report comes in about a man trapped under a fallen tree, but it turns out to be Craig Laurentis, a recluse who most people believe is a penniless hermit. Emma knows he's much more than that: he's a talented painter whose works go for big bucks, and he saved her life. She owns one of his paintings, a tranquil mountain scene. The paramedics discover that Craig has been shot, presumably by one of the poachers, and he's rushed to the hospital. Emma visits him there, but he has little to say about who attacked him or why.

The owner of a local art gallery tells Emma that Laurentis had dropped off a new painting recently, and she wants Emma's opinion. Emma is shocked to see how different it is from his usual work, dark, mysterious, and vaguely threatening. She keeps coming back to it, looking for hidden messages that might reveal more about the man, or perhaps offer clues to something he knows but can't speak about.

Christmas is approaching, and the newspaper is short-staffed. To add to the stress, Emma receives increasingly emphatic anonymous letters telling her that Larry Peterson, a local man who'd just died in prison, was innocent of the crime he'd been convicted of. Never one to avoid a good mystery, Emma decides to look into the case, with some assistance from Sheriff Milo Dodge.

Emma's love life is complicated. The suave journalist, Ralf, who invited her to live with him in Paris, then dumped her when she declined, is trying to win her back by sending a gigantic gift basket from France, but she is not amused, or interested. She and her off-again on-again lover, Sheriff Dodge, are on again, but she wonders if there's any future in their relationship, or if she even wants one.

This is the twenty-second volume in the Alpine/Emma Lord series, and one of the best so far. The prolific Ms. Daheim also writes a Bed and Breakfast series, and has contributed to several anthologies.

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