Book review: ‘Buried By The Roan’ has gas drilling, hunting camps and more
August 11, 2011
The time is around now, the place is Rio Blanco County, and the setting includes gas drilling, environmental zealotry, lust and murder.
The book, “Buried By The Roan,” by Denver-based writer Mark Stevens, is a mystery, first and foremost. The protagonist, a lady backcountry guide named Allison Coil, finds herself with a dead client and a set of highly questionable circumstances surrounding the death. She also learns that someone is stalking her small group of clients and outfitters, for undetermined purposes. At the same time, her best friend, a rather naive but well-meaning and basically intelligent environmentalist and herbalist named Trudy Heath, is being drawn into an intrigue involving militant advocates of the local-food movement, who wanted to torpedo a local school district’s service of unhealthy food to students.
The story quickly develops from there, as Coil struggles to figure out who would kill her client, why somebody would be poisoning springs around the Roan Plateau and the Flat Tops, and how she should handle a growing affection for one of her outfitters. She also learns that her group of clients is tied to a developing intrigue in Meeker, where a wealthy environmentalist is in a standoff with his neighbor over a list of issues too long to be delved into here.
As an added twist, several domesticated buffalo are killed by a sniper on a hillside, which Stevens said was based on a real incident near Hartsel, an unincorporated community in Park County.
This tangled skein of conflicts keeps the reader hopping along for more than 300 pages, as new developments lead the characters chasing off in different directions, into different alliances and with rapidly changing ideas about just what is going on.
Stevens, a former writer for The Denver Post who has visited the Roaring Fork Valley region for years, said he set the book here because, “I just really thought that the whole changing landscape, the controversy over hydraulic fracturing, was a good backdrop for a story.”
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He has definitely not tried to impose his own political interpretations and ideals onto the story, as might be expected.
“I really don’t believe, when you pick up a book, you want to be lectured to,” he said. So, he added, he simply adapted the “fascinating history” of Meeker, with a nod to ways in which the New West is taking over from the Old West, and went to work telling a story. One of the characters, named Devo, is a hyper-idealistic, back-to-nature type who retreats into the high country to live with nature without modern conveniences. His presence is a curse and a blessing, mixed with comic relief, to all concerned, as he gets tangled up with the story and becomes a television celebrity as a result.
This is Stevens’ second book, and the Coil-Heath duo has figured in both and will figure in a planned third installment, also to be set in this area, he said.