Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Grizzly Lies by Eileen Coughlan

As we were giving away several copies of 'Grizzly Lies' at Bloody Words (some donated by the author and some purchased with funds from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts - at a good discount from the owners of Owl's Nest Books), I thought it a good time to re-post my review of this title from its release in 2005:

Until her landlord's body is found beneath the gazebo, freelance journalist Hellie MacConnell's biggest worry is the tourists baiting an irate elk on the lawn. The former happens frequently in the beautiful mountain resort town of Banff, Alberta; the latter is unusual enough that the RCMP sends for a special crimes unit from Calgary. Is it murder or did 'Doc's' old heart simply give out? Why was Doc in Banff at all when he should have been in deepest Africa? Inheriting the house along with oddball environmentalist Arthur, who lives on the property, Hellie must unearth dead loves and buried lies if she is to clear both their names. But Arthur, a noted save-the-grizzlies crusader, has disappeared, leaving butchered bear paws in his cabin.

Meanwhile, anti-hunting protesters rally against a much-publicized auction for a mountain-sheep license. Developers try to drive a wedge between the town and the National Parks bureaucracy that limits its growth. The eternal winter ski-bum party gears up with the usual hard drinking and soft drugs. Between following Arthur's sketchy trail and dodging those gate-crashing bores from the fudge shop, Hellie must interview the publicity-shy winner of the sheep auction, a Texas millionaire whose killing history leads back to the same region of Africa where Doc first met Arthur. To top it all off, a family crisis is flaring up back East. Hunting guides clash with protesters, Arthur's alibi is unstable at best, and somebody seems able to enter Hellie's house unseen, day or night. It's inevitable that she'll find herself staring at the small end of a gun; the only question is, whose?

The pace builds steadily, the heroine's troubles become our own, and the varied mountain landscapes are aptly and beautifully integrated into the changing moods of the story. The writing lifts to occasional flights of enchanting whimsy, as when 'two black crows sailed past like a nasty joke,' or 'dreamy light settled in like dust.' 'Grizzly Lies' is a solid sophomore outing for Eileen Coughlan, whose first novel, 'Dying by Degrees', was short-listed for the 2001 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel.