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Book reviews: Stevens’ Coil mysteries bring intrigue to Flat Tops

Emily Katzmn and Kim Brack/For Steamboat Pilot & Today
"Antler Dust," by Mark Stevens
Courtesy Photo

This autumn, we were delighted to discover the Allison Coil Mysteries, an environmental thriller series by author Mark Stevens. The Allison Coil mysteries take place in the Flat Tops Wilderness and follow Allison Coil, a hunting guide who often seems to find herself on the trail of a killer and outside the purview of the law.

Antler Dust: An Allison Coil Mystery

by Mark Stevens

In “Antler Dust,” the debut novel in the series, two men go missing near Ripple Creek Pass on the snowy opening day of hunting season. Ray Stern, a young animal rights activist involved in a deliberately loud and obnoxious campout to protest hunting, appears to have orchestrated his own “creative suicide,” dressing in a felt deer suit and walking between the hairs of an inexperienced hunter’s rifle.

Rocky Carnivitas, a legendary hunting guide, is also missing. No one suspects foul play or a connection with Stern’s death except Allison, who heard a gunshot and saw something very peculiar through the blizzard. The sheriff dismisses Allison’s tip-off because she’s “a little screwy in her mind … with her directions. Women. Maps. You know.” As a result, Allison persists in tracking Carnivitas herself.

Within the first two chapters, there are two bodies, and the reader knows who committed the crimes. Yet following Allison as she uncovers the clues is quite suspenseful. Her hunt for truth and for her own validation brings her too close to serious danger and a man who will stop at nothing to protect his shady, lucrative outfitting business.

I appreciate how Stevens weaves environmental and political issues into this suspenseful story, and does so in a balanced way that exposes issues with wildlife exploitation but does not portray hunters as villains.

— Emily Katzman

Lake of Fire: An Allison Coil Mystery

by Mark Stevens

In Stevens’ most recent book, “Lake of Fire,” our intrepid sleuth is not your standard sheriff or private investigator, but again, the hunting guide named Allison Coil. In this adventure, the Flat Tops have been set ablaze during a harsh drought. After a survivalist named Devo alerts Allison to a corpse found near the epicenter of the blaze, she joins forces with reporter Duncan Bloom and his girlfriend, Trudy, to discover who is behind the murder and arson.

They soon discover the corpse is that of a famous environmentalist. Allison’s whole world is turned upside as they delve deeper into the investigation.

This beautiful, harsh setting attracts environmentalists, reality show survivalists and anti-government fanatics, while local ranchers protect their property from fire and government encroachment. Stevens has done his homework with regard to the setting; his descriptions of trails and lakes in the Flat Tops are pretty spot-on.

Going straight to the fourth book in the series was not seriously problematic, but I would recommend starting at the beginning to better enjoy Allison and Trudy’s character development. I am so excited to have found a well-written, suspenseful mystery series set in our own gorgeous backyard.

Off the Beaten Path will welcome author Mark Stevens to Steamboat Springs from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Dec. 28

— Kim Brack

Emily Katzman is assistant manager of Off the Beaten Path. Kim Brack is a bookseller at Off the Beaten Path.


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