August 7, 2011

07 Aug 2011 Review: Deadly Currents by Beth Groundwater

Beth Groundwater's Deadly Currents is a cozy mystery set in Salida, a small town in Colorado that is located on the Arkansas River.  In keeping with the cozy tradition, the author portrays Salida so vividly we can imagine we're there, hanging out and having fun with the affable rafting crews in places like Victoria Tavern, where locals make a game of guessing where outsiders might be from. 

The author also acquaints us intimately with the personal and public entanglements of the characters.  Tom King, for example, is the victim of poisoning by Aconite.  He's a real estate developer and city councilman who has squabbled with everyone in Salida.  Tom planned a golf course, but the demands of the course for precious water do not go over well with environmentalist, Lenny Prebble, who organizes the rafting trip that ends Tom's life. Tom is married but having an affair with Evie Olson, daughter of town councilman, Hank Olson, another member of the fatal rafting trip that ended with Tom's murder.  Tom breaks up with Evie before he dies, but his wife, Paula King, remains a suspect in her husband's murder.

But Lenny Prebble, Evie Olson, and Paula King are just three among many who might have wanted Tom Dead.  He'd also been in a bidding war with Nate Fowler, whose daughter was on the rafting trip.  Both King and Fowler were vying for prime development property, with potential to become high-priced country estates and agricultural water rights tied to it.  Add Jeff King as another suspect, since he's been cut off financially by his father, Tom King. 

In Salida, the long list of suspects is pared down by Mandy Tanner, who works closely with Sheriff's detective, victor Quintana, of the Chaffee County Sheriff's Department, to solve Tom King's murder.  Mandy's role as amateur sleuth is reinforced by  her job as a seasonal river ranger, on duty for her second week when the murder occurs. 

Groundwater adds romantic conflict, and again she honors the cozy tradition with light romantic interaction and no graphic sex between Mandy and her boyfriend of three months, Rob Juarez.  The two are at odds when the story begins.  As Mandy makes clear, she isn't the "kind of gal" who'll put up with being checked on nor babied by Rob.  She's athletic and driven by her job as a river ranger.  At twenty-seven, she's in control of her life and plans on keeping it that way.  Mandy further reinforces this point by reminding Rob when he volunteers to fix her toaster, "I can take care of myself" (22).  Mandy Tanner is admirable and strong, yet she's a very likable protagonist. 

Mandy's life revolves around keeping her Uncle Bill's rafting business going after he dies, and helping her coworkers who are whitewater rafting guides.  She maintains friendships as well as professional working relationships with coworkers, including her boss, Steve Hadley, and one of the best whitewater rafting guides, Gonzo Gordon.  There's no doubt that Mandy is emotionally nourished through her job and through her relationships with coworkers.  The fun and camaraderie of the group she works with and has fun with is all tied together by Mandy's love of being outdoors and, especially, of working as a river ranger on the Arkansas River.  Beth Groundwater brings out these story layers quite nicely and as a result does a great job with pacing in Deadly Currents

The action is consistently fast paced, with no lengthy pauses on a single page.  The pacing of the action also dovetails nicely with the whitewater rafting details that the author provides.  From first page to last, from the moment Mandy and Steve look upriver and see a three-raft pod heading for an upset in a class V rapid--and for murder--until the story's end, when Mandy and Rob Juarez discuss merging their whitewater rafting outfits and starting adventure travel trips, the action moves as swiftly in Groundwater's cozy murder mystery as it does in the beautiful but at times deadly currents of the Upper Arkansas River.          

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