South of Eden

Earl Murray, Author
Earl Murray, Author Forge $23.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-86923-6
Mass Market Paperbound - 304 pages - 978-0-8125-7172-1
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Following last year's droll saddlebag romance, Gabriella, Murray's 13th novel for Forge is a gory, macabre and depressing western combining cattle-ranching politics and a murder mystery. Ellis Burke is a rookie forest ranger in the new federal Forest Service, who's sent to the mountains of northwestern Colorado in 1905 to enforce fresh grazing and timber restrictions on the feudal cattle barons who have fed at the public trough too long. Soon Ellis is the target of harassment, threats and violence, while the conflict spreads as ranchers who favor environmental protections oppose those who don't, with predictable results. Complicating the tense situation is a psychotic serial killer who kidnaps women, disembowels them and buries them inside bull elk carcasses in his horrific little mountain hideaway. As victims disappear, Ellis's sordid past catches up with him when two trigger-happy old saddle pals arrive and blackmail him. The story is brimming with unsavory lowlifes, like Rube Waddell, a powerful, greedy and belligerent cattleman who will destroy any obstacles to the growth of his empire. His daughter, Cassie, hates him, wants to ruin him and has an ugly secret of her own to protect. Everyone's got evil intentions, which intertwine complexly, yet Murray throws in a monstrous forest fire just in case it's not hot enough already. The book's heart seems noble enough, trying to describe early efforts to save North America's natural resources from depletion, but it unfolds with gruesome bloody horror, saturated with dramatic overkill. (Aug.)
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