RARA-AVIS: Environmental mysteries

From: Larson, Craig ( Craig.Larson@tsjc.cccoes.edu)
Date: 02 Jul 2002

I'm all for Brit noir and have a bunch of books on hand to be read, but what I read most recently
(in fact, over the weekend) was a pair of books that turned out to have a theme in common: C.J. Box's second Joe Pickett novel, _Savage Run_, and Jonathon King's _The Blue Edge of Midnight_, the first in what looks to be a promising series about Max Freeman, a retired Philadelphia policeman who's hiding out in the Florida Everglades. The common theme was radical environmentalism having something to do with the crimes at each book's core.

In _Savage Run_, a group of ranchers hire an old stock detective to wipe out a list of top environmental activists
(this isn't a spoiler, as we know this from the early going). In each case the death is arranged to be as embarrassing or ridiculous as possible, so that the person is discredited--only the manner of their death is going to be remembered (one character is apparently killed by an exploding cow). Pickett gets involved when the killers show up in his area of Wyoming, on the trail of an activist who used to be his wife's boyfriend. There is some memorable stuff here: the characterizations are believable and honest; there are great descriptions of setting and environment; and the latter part of the book consists of an extended chase through the wilderness which is believably brought to life--you're there with the trio on the run. One of the things I like about Box so far is that he makes sure the bad guys get what's coming to them, and the ultimate bad guy here suffers a suitable fate--he's not able to wriggle off the hook at the last minute. Also, Box is pretty fair in his presentation of both sides in the argument--he doesn't seem to favor either the ranchers or the environmentalists. Each side has its strengths and its weaknesses and these are brought out in the book.

In _The Blue Edge of Midnight_, Max Freeman is canoeing his way back up river to his remote home--a former biological research shack on a backwater tributary--when he comes upon the canvas-wrapped body of a child. When he turns around and heads back to the nearest ranger station to report his discovery, he discovers a group of police officers and FBI agents gearing up to head upriver. Apparently, the killer has been sending GPS coordinates to the police to help them locate the bodies (this is the fourth child he's killed) and because of Freeman's proximity, he becomes a logical suspect. It also helps that Max retired from the Philadelphia force after he shot and killed an eleven year old in a hold-up. It doesn't matter that Freeman himself was shot and injured--he can't help but remember the kid he shot and has tried his best to get as far away from familiar surroundings as he can.

Where the environmental angle comes in is that it appears these killings are the work of an old-time "Gladesman" who is resentful of the encroaching developments all around the Everglades, developments which carve up more land every year and are creeping in on the locals' livelihood. This particular killer seems to have something against Freeman, who is being framed for the murders. A good first novel, with some memorable settings and descriptions of place. The characters are interesting, particularly Max's lawyer friend who is a "stress stutterer," perfectly capable of holding a conversation on the phone, but nearly incomprehensible when the conversation is face-to-face. This hasn't prevented him from being very successful. I also liked the fact that Jonathon King has found a new angle to the overpopulated ranks of Florida mystery authors by setting his work in the Everglades, rather than on one of the coasts. This was a good first outing for his sleuth and I'll be looking for the next one.

Craig Larson Trinidad, CO

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