“Striking Range”, “Object Lessons” and more

Regional books of interest for September:

“Striking Range” by Margaret Mizushima (Crooked Lane)

Striking Range by Margaret Mizushima (Crooked Lane Books)

Things were a little dicey at the end of Margaret Mizushima’s last Timber Creek K-9 mystery. Discovered by a foster mother, Detective Mattie Cobb had discovered his long-lost family. But her mother still hid to witness the murder of her husband. Now the villainous killer is in jail. The day Mattie and California detective Jim Hauck are scheduled to interview him, the man is murdered. The only clue what’s going on is a map of Colorado’s Timber Creek area marked with Xs.

The detectives begin their search, only to have Mattie pull the case off to investigate a young woman’s mysterious death. The day before, when the victim showed up at the veterinary clinic of Mattie’s girlfriend, Cole Walker, she was pregnant. Since then, the woman had apparently given birth, but there is no sign of a baby near the woman’s dead body.

Find the child and she will find the killer, Mattie thinks. She leaves with her K-9, Robo, in bad weather on a search. Meanwhile, Cole disappears and Mattie begins to suspect that there is a connection between the murder of the young woman and the prison death of her father’s killer.

“Striking Range” is No. 7 in Mizushima’s Timber Creek series. We’ve seen Mattie grow from an insecure rookie to a confident detective, and her life goes from loneliness to love. Mizushima, who works with her husband at a veterinary clinic in Colorado, is an expert on animals, as evidenced by her long description of the birth of seven German Shepherd puppies.

Readers have come to love Robo as much as Mattie and will be happy, if not surprised, at the book’s conclusion.

“Object lessons” by Stephanie Kane (Cold Hard Press)

Trust Lily Sparks to get involved in big trouble. Denver author Stephanie Kane’s lethargy left the Denver Art Museum to work as a private art conservator. She is trying to restore a painting that she knows is a fake. But she is more captured by three dioramas from the murder scene created by Adam and Eve Castle that are used to train detectives. The scenes bear a stark resemblance to three Denver murders. It is as if the killings were inspired by the dioramas.

Police, of course, dismiss Lily’s suspicion. And initially, Lily’s live-in girlfriend Paul, an FBI agent, became a lawyer, failing to take her seriously. He pushes Lily to find a house so they can move out of her small apartment. When it’s coming, will it be too late?

Lily joins an unorthodox art expert to find the killer. Is there a connection between the victims, or is it possible that they were murdered for their lifestyle?

“Object Lessons” is the third in Kane’s successful Lily Sparks series, and the best so far. Denverites will enjoy Kane’s many references to local restaurants and neighborhoods, and readers in general will be absorbed in this tightly written mystery with all its twists and turns. Kane comes again with a whodunit that is a pleasure to read.

“Tied of steel and stone”, by J. Bradford Bowers (University Press of Colorado)

The Colorado-Kansas Railway was perceived as an ambitious scheme to connect Cañon City with Garden City, Kan. After laying less than 3 miles of track, however, it went bankrupt and was re-emerged as a shortline connecting Pueblo with Stone City, 22 miles away. It drew rocks and clay and a few passengers.

The Colorado Railroad was always on the verge of bankruptcy, but it lasted 45 years, finally collapsing in 1957. And its survival for the past 17 years was due to a woman, a rarity in the time of male-dominated railroads.

J. Bradford Bowers, professor of history at Pueblo, writes a detailed account of the long-forgotten railroad, played against the turbulent days of American railroad in general. The map line was one of hundreds of tiny railway lines that connected remote locations with main lines. The Colorado Railroad struggled most of its existence as it faced countless problems: lack of money, poor maintenance, and loss of markets. The quarry closed, eliminating the line’s cause for existing, and the growing popularity of cars reduced passenger traffic.

In the end, it was the little railroad that could not.

“Ranch without cowboys” by James R. Davis (Sunstone Press)

Molly O’Reilly, a farm girl in Kansas, accepts a summer job working on a bison ranch in Colorado. She arrives with a secret: She was raped by a housekeeper and is pregnant. When Molly’s condition becomes apparent, she is cared for by the women at the research facility and gives birth to a daughter in her cabin.

Molly stays on the ranch through the winter, unable to determine her future. Eventually, she takes advice from both the ranch owner and Carlos, a local man who has fallen in love with her, to return to Kansas. Her father threw her out when he discovered the pregnancy and Molly wants to confront him. But when she arrives, her daughter in tow, she discovers that her father is dead. The scenes between mother and daughter about family secrets are among the best in the book.

“Ranch Without Cowboys” is the story of a young woman who slowly develops the confidence to face both the past and the future.

“Where the weeds grow” by Curt Melliger (Ozark Mountain Press)

Early in this book, Colorado author Curt Melliger writes: “Wildness is everywhere… Wildness is essential. In fact, it is the essence the source, the cause of life. ”

Melliger loves sunsets and mountain peaks, wildfires, prairies and a hippie hotel in San Francisco, “the million and a spectacle, miracles and phenomena produced in this uniquely stunning, Eden-like world.” He likes weeds because it “is a constant reminder that man is not master of creation.” He even likes barren landscapes, for “Perhaps Mother Nature is at its most beautiful when there is so little of her to be found.”

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