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By Mark Stevens

People's Press, Aug. 2011 ($14.95)
ISBN-10: 0981781098
ISBN-13: 978-0-9817810-9-9

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Allison Coil once worked as a graphic designer in the hustle and bustle of the big city, but after surviving a plane crash, she left all that behind and headed for the Rocky Mountains for physical rehab. She fell in love with the serenity and beauty of the area, and now runs a company that takes groups up into the mountains to hunt. It's October, near the end of elk season, when the weather can be iffy. Most of her clients are city slickers, but the latest bunch are locals with camping and hunting experience. That seems odd to Allison, but they tell her they just want a break from their routine.

One of the men, Josh Keating, falls ill during the first night, and others soon experience the same symptoms. The common denominator is that they all drank from the streams around the Flat Top Mountains. This is very bad news for the local economy, and a full scale investigation is soon underway.

Change is coming to the Roan Plateau. Huge natural gas reserves have been discovered, and the land owners are set to become instant millionaires. Land owners with mineral rights, like the men in Allison's camp. Not all of the locals are in favor of this new gold boom because the fracking process used to bring the gas up to the surface poses the potential for environmental disaster. Friendships are strained, secret alliances are made, violence breaks out, and people die. Allison's best friend, Trudy Heath, gets into a relationship with the town grocer, who heads a "save the environment" movement. She finds to her dismay that the members are not into peace and love, preferring the "whatever it takes" approach to derailing the planned drilling.

Allison needs to find out how and why one of her hunters died, and soon she is running for her life in the middle of a blizzard. Help comes from an unlikely source, a ragged, smelly, hermit who calls himself Devo. He's been living way, way off the grid to prove that mankind can go back to living off the land. He enjoys tracking the hunters and hikers, and he's seen things that put him in danger too.

This is the second in the Allison Coil mystery series, following ANTLER DUST. The writing is crisp, the plot is intricate, and the description of the scenery takes the reader into the beautiful mountains. Both the level of tension and the weather worsen as the stakes get higher. When Allison is struggling to survive, the reader will shiver even if he or she is sitting on the beach: it is that realistic. The characters are well-defined and three-dimensional. The release date is August 2011, and the subject matter couldn't be more timely. If you've wondered what all this frenzy over natural gas and fracking is about, you'll find your answer here. Mr. Stevens has written an excellent mystery, and I look forward to the next volume in the series.

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