Aspen Times Weekly: Mystery in the Mountains
If You Go …
What: Mark Stevens book-signing and talk
Where: Explore Booksellers, 221 E. Main St.
When: Saturday, Feb. 14, 5 p.m.
More info: 970-925-5336
Hunting guide Allison Coil finds a body in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, apparently cut down by a mountain lion. Down in Glenwood Springs, on the Grand Avenue bridge, a U.S. Senate candidate is shot during a campaign event and a dogged local reporter begins chasing the story.
Are the two events linked? Of course. They happen at the outset of a mystery novel: Mark Stevens’ new “Trapline,” the third in his Allison Coil series. How it all comes together plays out over a well-executed and suspenseful narrative following the self-reliant outdoorswoman and intrepid journalist as they stay a step ahead of the police.
The book is a thrilling read for fans of the genre, filled with twists, political intrigue and a dose of wilderness. For Glenwood and Roaring Fork Valley residents, it will provide many nods of recognition at locales like Doc Holliday’s, the Mt. Sopris Inn and the blighted Dos Hermanos.
Based in Denver, Stevens is a former reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, Denver Post and other outlets who currently works in public relations while writing fiction on the side.
“I hope I got it right,” Stevens says of the local setting. “The cops might think otherwise, but that’s fiction.”
The first of his Allison Coil series, “Antler Dust,” was published in 2007. Stevens says Coil was inspired by a woman he met in the Flat Tops while on a day-long horseback ride with his wife. He had previously written some mystery novels – all set in more urban environments — but they had all stayed in his proverbial desk drawer.
As he began imagining Coil sleuthing around the mountains, he knew he had something special on his hands.
“By the end of the ride I realized I had a fantastic setting in the Flat Tops and a woman who ran against stereotypes – she’s young, she’s excited about the outdoors and everything from the bugs to the weeds and the flowers and the cloud formations – and I realized I couldn’t set it anywhere else,” says Stevens.
He didn’t originally conceive Allison as the protagonist of a series, but she has stuck with him.
Stevens signed with a new publisher — Minnestota’s Midnight Ink — for “Trapline,” and it appears that readers will have many more Allison Coil mysteries – and more fictional West Slope intrigue — to come. The fourth book in the series, “Lake of Fire,” is due out in September. Stevens is currently writing a fifth.
“What keeps me interested in Alison is that the big question, for her, is how is she going to engage in civilization?” he explained.
An admirer of western mystery writers like Craig Johnson and Tony Hillerman, Stevens enjoys working in the wide creative borders of the mystery novel.
“It’s an amazing, flexible genre that opens up and allows a lot of people to bring different flavors to it,” he says
The new book admirably stretches its narrative beyond the timeworn sleuthing plot points of a whodunit, as the mysteries at the center of “Trapline” lead readers into the thorny issue of illegal immigration and private U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers.
Stevens says he’s found western Colorado a particularly rich setting, allowing him to put characters not only in its grand mountain-scape but also in the regional conflicts over immigration and conservation. Stevens’ last book in the series, “Buried by the Roan,” wove hydraulic fracturing into the story.
“I can’t believe it hasn’t been fictionalized more,” he says of the West Slope. “There isn’t an issue that you can’t find in that area. Glenwood in particular is a really interesting crossroads with rivers and roads and the railroad.”
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It was inevitable, right? Wine in space.