Buried by the Roan
by Mark Stevens
People’s Press, 2011
Softcover, 348 pages, $14.95
Reviewed by Elliot Jackson
OK, let me see if I’ve got this straight: our heroine in Buried by the Roan is plucky Allison Coil, yet another average working-girl mystery heroine – who always seems to be at least 40 pounds lighter and quite a bit blonder and petite-er than the average American working girl. Because of a personal crisis (she survives a plane crash), she is inspired to leave her yuppie existence in the big city and become a hunting guide in the Western Slope wilderness. And really, this is the sort of thing that could happen to anybody. Particularly a woman with no apparent previous wilderness or hunting experience.
So we have the obligatory death (one of her clients on a hunting trip, a rancher who is embroiled in a land dispute with – wait for it – an environmentalist). At this point in the story, I am hearing my internal Mike Myers chiming hopefully: “Is he an EVIL environmentalist?” Yes, as it turns out, he is! And he’s even on the cover of High Country News!
But let’s forget about him for a moment and return to our plucky heroine. Her libidinous designs on her hunky young cowboy assistant are hampered by mysterious outbreaks of illness, the aforementioned death, and the soon-to-be revealed presence of “Devo,” a thoroughly modern type of back-to-the-land apocalpyto, who chronicles his “devolution” on YouTube. No, seriously, stop laughing (actually, I developed kind of a soft spot for Devo, who acts as a good, though smelly, fairy to Allison and helpfully figures out most of the plot complications for her while skulking and starving on the Flat Tops).
Meanwhile, we also get the story of Allison’s Magical Earth Mama BFF Trudy, who develops a thing for Jerry, another environmentalist with Big Plans. No, Dr. Evil, he’s not an EVIL environmentalist, just an egotistical one who admires the tactics of the evil one, and tries to dragoon Trudy into his world-dominating plan of … wait for it … changing lunch menus in the Glenwood Springs school district. Yeah. No, really.
The stories of Allison and Trudy collide climactically in Meeker, where a hearing is scheduled to determine the fate of oil and gas leases on the Roan Plateau.
Water poisonings! Drilling! Those dad-gummed Tangerine-Colored Electric Kool-Aid Acid Baby Enviros coming in to mess things up for the locals! Buffalo shootings! There’s a lot of stuff going on here. Just enough of it corresponds to regularly-scheduled reality here in rural Colorado that I keep reading.
Finally we get to the point where the murderer builds the obligatory complicated death machine to snare fair Allison by the same means he employed to kill the first guy. Allison escapes with the help of her trusty horse and pursues the murderer, who ends up jumping into the river to get away from her. Now dig this: Allison not only jumps into the river and wrestles him out, but engages in light banter with his accomplice during the blazing gun battle that ensues (you know the sort of thing: BLAM! “Why did you kill so-and-so?” BLAM! “He was getting soft on me!” BLAM! “He screwed up the whole plan!” BLAM! “What plan?” BLAM!). That’s my kind of average American mystery heroine! Dumber than dirt and stronger than Wonder Woman!
At this point, dear Reader, my disbelief, which had been suspending all over the place, finally gave up and plunged howling into the abyss of absurdity it had been dangling over. And all I gotta say now is: REALLY? Between the bust of the latest boom (real estate! yeah, best investment ever, because it’s never going to go down!) leading to the ominous rise of the next boom (well, no one’s buying these spec houses we threw up in the desert so let’s drill, baby, drill!), mysteries set in Colorado have a colorful cast of potential villains and victims all raring to go. To his credit, Mark Stevens seems to think so, too, but really? This frothy mix of cliché and caricatures is your A-game? I think I’ll give the next Allison Coil a miss. At least until she puts on a few pounds or starts picking on people her own size.