Regional books of interest for September:
“Striking Range,” by Margaret Mizushima (Crooked Lane)
Things were a little dicey at the end of Margaret Mizushima’s last Timber Creek K-9 mystery. Raised by a foster mother, Detective Mattie Cobb had discovered her long-lost family. But her mother was still in hiding for witnessing the murder of her husband. Now the villainous killer is in jail. The day that Mattie and California detective Jim Hauck are scheduled to interview him, the man is murdered. The only clue as to what’s going on is a map of Colorado’s Timber Creek area marked with Xs.
The detectives begin their search, only to have Mattie pulled off the case to investigate the mysterious death of a young woman. The day before, when the victim appeared in the veterinary clinic of Mattie’s boyfriend, Cole Walker, she was pregnant. Since then, the woman apparently had given birth, but there is no sign of a baby near the woman’s dead body.
Find the baby, and she’ll find the killer, Mattie believes. She sets off with her K-9, Robo, in foul weather on a search. Meanwhile, Cole goes missing, and Mattie begins to suspect there is a connection between the murder of the young woman and the jailhouse death of her father’s killer.
“Striking Range” is No. 7 in Mizushima’s Timber Creek series. We’ve seen Mattie grow from an unsure rookie into a confident detective, and her life go from loneliness to love. Mizushima, who works with her husband in a Colorado veterinary clinic, is an expert on animals, as evidenced by her lengthy description of the birth of seven German shepherd puppies.
Readers have come to love Robo as much as Mattie and will be pleased, if not surprised, at the book’s ending.
“Object Lessons,” by Stephanie Kane (Cold Hard Press)
Trust Lily Sparks to get involved in big trouble. Denver author Stephanie Kane’s sleuth left the Denver Art Museum to work as a private art conservator. She’s trying to restore a painting she knows is a fake. But she’s more caught up in three murder-scene dioramas created by Adam and Eve Castle that are used to train detectives. The scenes have an uncanny resemblance to three Denver murders. It’s as if the killings were inspired by the dioramas.
The police, of course, dismiss Lily’s suspicions. And at first, Lily’s live-in boyfriend Paul, an FBI agent turned lawyer, fails to take her seriously. He’s pushing Lily to find a house so that they can move out of her tiny condo. By the time he comes around, will it be too late?
Lily teams up with an unorthodox art expert to find the killer. Is there a connection among the victims, or is it possible they were murdered for their lifestyles?
“Object Lessons” is the third in Kane’s successful Lily Sparks series, and the best so far. Denverites will enjoy Kane’s many references to local restaurants and neighborhoods, and readers in general will be absorbed in this tightly written mystery with all its twists and turns. Kane comes through again with a whodunit that is a delight to read.
“Bound By Steel and Stone,” by J. Bradford Bowers (University Press of Colorado)
The Colorado-Kansas Railway was conceived as an ambitious scheme to link Cañon City to Garden City, Kan. After laying less than 2 miles of track, however, it went into bankruptcy and was resurrected as a shortline connecting Pueblo with Stone City, 22 miles away. It hauled stone and clay and a few passengers.
The Colorado railroad was always on the brink of bankruptcy, but it lasted 45 years, finally succumbing in 1957. And its survival for the last 17 years was due to a woman, a rarity in the days of male-dominated railroading.
J. Bradford Bowers, a Pueblo history professor, writes a detailed account of the long-forgotten railroad, played against the turbulent days of U.S. railroading in general. The shortline was one of hundreds of tiny rail lines that connected remote places with mainlines. The Colorado Railroad struggled for most of its existence as it faced myriad problems: lack of money, poor maintenance and loss of markets. The stone quarry closed, eliminating the line’s reason for existing, and the growing popularity of automobiles cut passenger traffic.
Ultimately, it became the little railroad that couldn’t.
“Ranch Without Cowboys,” by James R. Davis (Sunstone Press)
Molly O’Reilly, a Kansas farm girl, accepts a summer job working on a bison ranch in Colorado. She arrives with a secret: She was raped by a farmhand and is pregnant. When Molly’s condition becomes obvious, she’s cared for by the women at the research facility and gives birth to a daughter in her cabin.
Molly stays on at the ranch through the winter, unable to decide her future. Eventually, she takes the advice of the ranch owner as well as that of Carlos, a local man who’s fallen in love with her, to return to Kansas. Her father threw her out when he discovered the pregnancy, and Molly wants to confront him. But when she arrives, her daughter in tow, she discovers that her father is dead. The scenes between mother and daughter about family secrets are among the best in the book.
“Ranch Without Cowboys” is the story of a young woman who slowly develops the self-confidence to face both the past and the future.
“Where the Weeds Grow,” by Curt Melliger (Ozark Mountain Press)
Early in this book, Colorado author Curt Melliger writes, “The Wild is everywhere … Wildness is essential. Indeed, it is the essence the source, the reason for life.”
Melliger loves sunsets and mountain peaks, wildfires, prairie and a hippie hotel in San Francisco, “the million and one spectacles, miracles and phenomena produced on this singular fantastic, Eden-like world.” He likes weeds, because they “are constant reminders that man is not master of creation.” He even likes barren landscape, because “Perhaps Mother Nature is at her prettiest when there is so little of her to be found.”
The essays in “Where the Weeds Grow” are an ode to wild things. Melliger finds inspiration everywhere: a head-on highway collision that didn’t happen and the fall through a rotten bridge into a canyon that did.
Melliger’s essays on wilderness are heartfelt and beautifully written, a tribute to the wilderness around us — if you can find it.
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