A murder mystery with a local setting

Allyn Harvey
Title: Antler Dust; Author:Mark Stevens; Publisher: Paandaa Entertainment, Boulder; Price: $24.95

A female hunting guide, a “reformed” hunter, an earnest ranger and a greedy outfitter are at the center of “Antler Dust”, Mark Stevens’ debut novel.The story, set in Glenwood Springs and the nearby Flattop Mountains, revolves around two deaths that occur within a few minutes of each other on a snowy day at the outset of elk hunting season. The protagonist, guide Alison Coil, hears a shot and sees someone struggling to drag a particularly heavy load – a human body, it turns out – at the top of a nearby ridge.What she finds later at the scene – the abandoned carcass of a trophy-sized elk – only adds to the mystery. Meanwhile, Dean Applegate, a hunter in a group outfitted by George Grumley, accidentally shoots a protester with the environmental group FATE, or Fighting Animal Torture Everywhere. The supposedly “reformed” Applegate spends the rest of the novel in a state of denial, spinning tales to keep the beautiful leader of FATE happy, the press writing stories and the Garfield County sheriff and his deputies at bay.But a much more brutal killer lurks, one who, in a particularly stark moment, recounts to the reader and himself both his crime and his victim, wishing “he could kill him all over again.”Stevens, a Colorado resident and former Denver Post reporter and news producer for the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour, has crafted a page-turner with all the makings of a great mystery: two deaths and a variety of characters who aren’t really what they appear to be.Stevens’ knowledge of the region is evident in the setting he creates – a perfectly believable locale in the central Rockies. His experience as a reporter is reflected in his portrayal of the bumbling sheriff and his lazy deputies. The story moves along through peaks and valleys of plot and circumstance, the same as any news story that draws local, state and national media attention – all of which cover the protester’s death in force.The book is well-written from start to finish. Stevens’ skill as a writer occasionally shines with the occasional gold coin, where prose and plot sing in perfect harmony. Mark Stevens will be in the valley for a book-signing at 7 p.m. April 11 at the Town Center Booksellers in Basalt.