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Tainted Mountain (A Nora Abbott Mystery) Paperback – March 8, 2013
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About the Author
Shannon Baker (McCook, NE) can often be found backpacking, skiing, kayaking, cycling, or just playing lizard in the desert. From the Colorado Rockies to the Nebraska Sandhills, the peaks of Flagstaff and the deserts of Tucson, landscapes play an important role in her books. She is a member of SinC, MWA, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Baker was named the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 Writer of the Year. Visit her online at Shannon-Baker.com.
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Nora Abbott has thrown her heart and soul into her husband's dream: buying a ski resort outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, and turning it into a success. As a result, it's become her dream, too. But there are many obstacles in the way of making that dream come true. The prolonged drought has meant very little snow. Fighting for the right to make snow has brought hordes of environmental protesters and Hopi Indians to the courthouse and the resort, all with their own agendas, and it makes no difference that Nora intends to do this in as environmentally friendly a manner as possible.
Slashed tires, ruined equipment, fires, very real threats of bodily harm, a marriage that's turning sour-- Nora needs more stress like she needs another overdue bill-- but she gets it. Her husband is murdered, and energy baron Barrett McCreary, who wants to reopen the area to uranium mining, seems poised for a hostile takeover of the resort. The only help Nora can see on her horizon is Cole Huntsman, but even he seems to be playing both sides against the middle.
I looked forward to reading this book with a great deal of anticipation. I have a fondness for mysteries set in Arizona, and ones set in the northern part of the state are few and far between. Baker does extremely well with her setting up in the cooler, pine-scented mountains. The issues she highlights in her book are very real. The ski resorts in Arizona have struggled for years with the drought that never seems to end. The resort owners have fought for the right to make snow on the mountains, but these mountains are sacred to the Hopi people who believe that the entire process upsets the balance of the natural world. The area does have many old uranium mines which were closed because of the deadly conditions in which the miners worked, and there are those people looking to make a quick buck who want them reopened.
However, the characters did not live up to the setting and the issues. Barrett McCreary is a stock bad guy. We know this from the start, and the only real suspense lies in wondering how far he will go to get what he wants. Abigail Stoddard is the standard Mother From Hell who's traded on her good looks throughout her life to marry a succession of rich husbands to keep her in the manner to which she's become accustomed. Naturally nothing her daughter ever does suits Abigail. Cole Huntsman is the ambiguous handsome good guy, and while that ambiguity is good for the story, I didn't feel any real attraction between Cole and Nora.
Without doubt, the most annoying character is Nora Abbott herself. Yes, her mother made me gnash my teeth as I was reading, but Abigail was not meant to be a sympathetic character. I wanted to like Nora. I really did. But the woman is a drama queen. The first line of the book immediately tells you that. Air rips, lungs are seared, a heart bursts... we are constantly updated on Nora's emotional state, and she never gets off the roller coaster. Every emotion, each physical experience is a superlative. It's exhausting and became such an annoyance to me that it detracted from the story.
So the anticipation turned into somewhat of a disappointment. I do like the book for its setting and the issues that the author raised. There's some good stuff here, but when I read another Nora Abbott mystery, I sincerely hope that Abigail has taken an extended vacation (during the entire length of the book) and that Nora has a prescription for chill pills.
Barret McCreary wants the ski resort to go ahead, and Scott's protests prove his undoing as McCreary Energy puts profit before health. Barret tells his half-Hopi daughter that the Hopi live a simple spiritual life to control their children, stop progress and lead a life of poverty and poor medical care. There are two sides to every story, but Barret is only concerned with exploiting uranium, water and coal.
Ever since reading Peter Matthiessen's 'Indian Country' I have been aware of the exploitation of the South-West deserts and the dangerous nature of mine tailings and water pollution. Modern methods are used intensely to extract fuels, between coal, radioactive elements and fracking. TAINTED MOUNTAIN shows that big money can ride roughshod over lives. Nora believes that bringing more water to the drought-stricken mountain must be a good thing, and the runoff will seep back into the water table. This would increase biodiversity and employment. But the people on the Hopi and Navaho reservations like their mountain as it is. Through the characters we see the sides of a modern conflict, one in which, as always, the balance of power lies with the exploiters.
Shannon Baker provides a well-researched tale in which we can explore the arid lands of Arizona, its scenery, peoples and geology. Herself a resident of Flagstaff, she describes a desert sunrise or the colours of the ephemeral flowers to bring her tale to life. TAINTED MOUNTAIN is a good read for anyone with interest in the fragile environment, Native cultures or just in a thriller set in an interesting location.
Consider also Nevada Barr's books about a National Park Ranger, Anna Pigeon, or Tony Hillerman's police tales set in Arizona.
Tainted Mountain poses intriguing questions right off the bat. Are Nora's friends really her enemies? Are her enemies friends? We care because Nora's not a stock character. One has to sympathize with the trials and dangers she encounters. Even though she's in a state of angst, she powers on. In this luscious and layered thriller, Nora's battling her own inner demons as she attacks those from outside.
Ms. Baker has crafted a smooth, fun read. She is the queen of action and a master at drawing on hot-button topics.
Once again, With Tainted Mountain, Shannon has done her homework on Native American and environmental topics. She is sensitive to them without being obnoxiously P.C. I recommend this book to those willing to take a wild breathless, ride. When you read it, you, like me, will look forward to Nora's next adventure.