Top Ten Rocky Mountain Mysteries
I’m afraid I’m afflicted with Niwot’s Curse. This is a legend of Chief Niwot, leader of the Southern Arapahoe who lived on Colorado’s Front Range. When the first white settlers showed up and pitched their tents along Boulder Creek, he predicted the beauty of the place would make them want to stay. (That’s not the whole curse. He finished by saying their staying would be the undoing of the beauty, but I am selective about how much cursing I accept.)
I’ve been lucky enough to live in the Boulder area on a few occasions and really feel it is my heart home. Even though I love living on the desert in Tucson, I make regular pilgrimages to get my Rocky Mountain fix. When I am feeling particularly homesick for those soul-satisfying landscapes, I can escape to the Rockies in some great books. If you, like me, need to smell the tang of pines, see snowflakes in diamond glory from high-altitude sun, catch the heartbreaking beauty of golden aspens in October, and hear the roar of cascading spring runoff, here’s a list of mysteries to take you home.
Blood on the Tracks by Barbara Nickless. This dark mystery follows Sydney Rose Parnell, a railroad cop, and her dog, Clyde, as they investigate a grisly murder in Denver. Sydney and Clyde are both veterans and suffer from PTSD, and their relationship is central to the story. I can’t wait for October, when the next in the series, Dead Stop, is due for release.
The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo. I love this series, which includes Mortal Fall and The Weight of Night, but start with The Wild Inside, which won a Pinckley Award. Set in Montana’s Glacier National Park, Carbo’s series takes me smack-dab in the grandeur of that dangerous and glorious setting. When a man is tied to a tree and left for grizzly bait, special agent Ted Systead is sent to investigate. What makes this case torturous for him is that he witnessed his father being mauled and killed by a grizzly.
Lake of Fire by Mark Stevens. There are few places more beautiful or remote than the Flat Tops Wilderness in Colorado, where Stevens sets this fantastic series. Allison Coil is a hunting guide with grit and courage. In this fourth installation in the series, her wilderness is ablaze and a body is found among the ashes. Stevens addresses some hefty issues in all of his books. Bonus is Sonny Boy, Allison’s faithful steed.
The Longmire Series by Craig Johnson. If you’ve watched the TV series but haven’t read the books, you’re in for a real treat. By my count, he’s up to fifteen now. Most of them can be read out of sequence, but start with The Cold Dish to get the best feel. Not only does Johnson capture what it’s like to live in the rural west, he does it with laugh-out-loud humor. These are smart books with a great deal of heart.
Winter’s Child by Margaret Coel. Sadly, this long-running series, starting with The Eagle Catcher in 1995, is wrapping up with this book. How could you not love Father John O’Malley and Vicky Holden as they solve mysteries on the Wind River Arapaho Reservation in Wyoming? Coel brings an authenticity to this bleak and beautiful setting. Don’t really start with the last book, but be sure you get to it.
Disgraced by Gwen Florio. I’ve loved all of the Lola Wicks series. In this book, Lola is in Yellowstone for vacation when she is embroiled in a mystery involving veterans from the war in Afghanistan. Twists and turns and action all around. Florio is one smart writer, and come on, it’s Yellowstone, people.
A Parliament of Owls by Christine Goff. This fun-spirited Birdwatchers Mystery series launched in 1998 and after a hiatus, Goff brought it back with this twisty addition. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent Angela Dimato is at it again, this time investigating a murder at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge near Denver. You don’t have to be a birder to love this series.
Desperado: A Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos. Meet Gus Corral, a down-on-his-luck guy living in Denver’s gentrification-creep. You’ll love Ramos’s sense of place and feel his real affection for his neighborhood. One reviewer says, “Ramos captures Denver’s Latino North Side in the same intense way that Walter Mosley depicts black L.A.”
Joe Pickett Series by C.J. Box. Is it cheating to name the whole series? If so, start with Winter Kill and work your way up. I love this series, not only because of the great landscapes and issues Box addresses but because of the warmth and complications of Pickett’s family and relationships.
Killing Trail by Margaret Mizushima. This is the first book in the Timber Creek K-9 series and was named Debut Mystery of the Month for December 2015 by Library Journal and nominated for the RT Reviewer’s Choice award for Best First Mystery. Mizushima’s rural mountain communities ring true, and the adventures of Mattie Cobb and her four-legged partner, Robo, will draw you in.
Shannon Baker was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 and 2017 Writer of the Year. She is the author of the Kate Fox mystery series, Stripped Bare (2016) and Dark Signal (2017) from Tor/Forge. Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, Kirkus says, “Baker serves up a ballsy heroine, a colorful backdrop, and a surprising ending.” She also writes the Nora Abbott mystery series (Midnight Ink), featuring Hopi Indian mysticism and environmental issues. Shannon makes her home in Tucson where she enjoys cocktails by the pool, breathtaking sunsets, a crazy Weimaraner, and killing people (in the pages of her books). Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com