I’m not able to get out to various places anymore but have great childhood memories of the Colorado Rockies among other western places. Since I can’t get there physically, I now take the trips in my mind as corny as that sounds. Mark Stevens brought it alive for me and ranks up there with C. J. Box, Steven Havill and others who showcase a clear love for the great outdoors and can write a really good book.
Antler Dust: A Novel
By Mark Stevens
ISBN # 978-0-9774188-1-7
Allison Coil came out to Colorado’s Flat Top wilderness to leave memories of death and destruction behind. Which is somewhat ironic since her new chosen profession was to be a hunting guide where she would routinely see death. The concept of death and what death means has become an almost constant companion while she seeks solace in the beautiful Colorado Mountains and in the local area known as Ripplecreek. Hunting guides aren’t a rarity in the mountains but being a woman she stands out and once again has to prove herself—especially to the good old boy network. Of course, if the protest group “Fighting Animal Torture Everywhere” otherwise known as “FATE” has its way, nobody will be hunting in the mountains anymore.
As a snowstorm descends on the area, Alison Coil hears a gunshot. Certainly not unusual but the actions of who she thinks is the shooter when she catches a glimpse of him through the swirling snow make her wonder. She watches him or her over on the next ridge dragging something and then the snow thickens and she loses sight of what was happening. Something didn’t look right and she thinks about it as she works to guide herself and her horse, Bear, safely off the mountain. Her suspicions are further encouraged when she learns that a local hunting guide is missing as is one of the protestors. She knows something funny is going on and after being shoved aside once too many times when she spoke up, begins to investigate in her own way.
In a novel that shifts point of view through numerous characters, Author Mark Stevens weaves a compelling tale of greed a d murder with the majestic beauty of the Colorado Rockies as his backdrop. Allison Coil is a strong complex character who quickly comes to life despite some of the other characters who seem to be little more than stock stereotype figures. A first novel from the author, it shows most tellingly in that a significant portion of the character depth is reserved for Coil. However, it is also clear that at least two of the secondary characters have definite possibilities should this work become part of a series.
Where the author showcases real talent is in the weaving of the various storylines as well as bringing alive the beauty of the setting. A theme within the work is the fact that responsible hunting is a necessary part of wildlife management today. That theme coupled with the concept of what it means to be a female guide in an area dominated by men could have become a series of information dumps that would preach to readers. Instead, showing real skill, the information is occasionally presented in the course of doing other things and never becomes the reason for anything.
Add in the scenic beauty and the at times harsh elements, good old fashioned greed with a thoroughly modern twist, along with several plot surprises in the last fifty pages and the result is a very good book. Author Mark Stevens has created a very good read that quickly becomes a real page turner and one well worth your reading investment.
Kevin R. Tipple © 2007