Guide, Flat Tops again star in mystery sequel

Colorado writer Mark Stevens clearly has an affinity for the leading character in his two mystery novels.

That holds true whether you consider that character to be hunting guide Allison Coil or the Flat Tops Wilderness Area where she plies her trade and solves murders on the side.

Stevens introduced Coil and her beloved hunting grounds north of Glenwood Springs in his 2006 book “Antler Dust.” Now he’s back with a sequel, “Buried by the Roan,” which is being released this month.

Once again, he’s conjured up a suspenseful tale featuring an easy-to-like protagonist and a landscape Stevens clearly knows well, and treasures.

In his sequel, this former newspaper reporter and television news producer works in a number of ripped-from-the-headlines plot drivers. Most notable among them is natural gas development, its use of hydraulic fracturing, and associated groundwater-contamination concerns in western Colorado.

Stevens weaves the controversy over federal government action regarding gas leasing on the Roan Plateau west of the Flat Tops into the narrative — not to mention the book’s title. But in truth it’s somewhat of an ancillary part of this story. The book’s strength isn’t in its handling of the nation’s debate over gas drilling, but in showing how when it comes to environmental causes, people on all sides of an issue can be driven to extremes in pursuing their agendas.

All of this leaves plenty of plot twists for Coil, with the help of some friends, to try to make sense of, like reading the signs in the woods that can help her lead a client to a trophy elk. Along the way, Stevens gives readers a feel for the Flat Tops, from its meadows, peaks, lakes and caves, to its snowstorms that can quickly put the unprepared in a life-or-death situation.

But for the outdoors-savvy Coil, who can hold her own in the male-dominated world of hunting, contentment comes from being on a horse in these mountains. At times, Stevens all but puts you on the trail with her, sharing her satisfaction at being outside with the aspen and scrub oak for company. Coil is a survivor of a jet crash, and it is in these mountains that she finds mental healing and her place in the world — but not an escape from it. In Stevens’ books, society’s more sinister forces manage to find her, but also find the tough stuff she’s made of — even as she continues to make the same discovery herself.


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