Sunday, February 27, 2011

Review: Death Pans Out

Death Pans Out

by Ashna Graves

Hardcover, 288 pages,

from Poisoned Pen Press

Reporter Jeneva Leopold, faced with a life-altering decision, takes a leave of absence from her job to recover from surgery. Breast cancer has claimed part of her body and she wants time to recover in relative peace. Not just from the debilitating effects of the surgery itself, but she wants to be in a place where she can think about her life and her existence. This is a novel about an unusual woman with an unusual plan to rehabilitate herself.

There are great stories surrounding the searches for precious metals from California, South America and the Yukon, as well as the production of gold from less well-known regions, and this one takes its cue from those stories. Fact or fiction, we are never quite sure, but here is a story which may well become a part of that so interesting body of literature.

Jeneva’s family has long owned an idle gold mine in the mountains of Southern Oregon, a harsh, vastly rural region of high deserts, mountains, isolated communities, wild animals and, legends. One legend surrounds the mysterious disappearance of Jeneva’s uncle, Mathew. Mathew disappeared one night from the cabin at the mine almost twenty years before the story opens, and his mining partner has retreated into a silent years from which he may never emerge.

Jeneva takes a long leave of absence and moved to the cabin at the mine where she intends to spend several months of the summer physically and mentally recovering from her trauma. Almost immediately, a parade of compelling characters begins to invade her peaceful existence, from a weird self-styled “artifact hunter,” who insists that he always camps on Bureau of Forestry land and visits the area regularly, to a hearty sheriff who seems at times too good to be true, to a taciturn former model and beauty queen turned rancher, to assorted miners, a tall funeral director and other assorted characters. They all make for some fascinating scenes and while the action is never of a high order, the rising tension and sense of danger to Jeneva and her friends, is well-handled.

I enjoyed the story, learned some things about governmental land management and local attitudes toward government, and found the ending quite a surprise. If there are small problems with this debut novel, they stem from an experienced reporter acting entirely too trusting and naive to serve the story, and a couple of the rants are a little too long. That said, I look forward to another adventure with Jeneva Leopold.

Carl Brookins,

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,

Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

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