by Deborah Harter Williams
Leading the pack in environmental sleuthing are the Park Rangers. It’s a very popular conceit for setting up an ecological drama and they come in all locations and styles. The settings themselves are enough to make an environmental point even if the plots and motives are more personal. Some of the descriptions are breathtaking and make the books worth a read just for that.
Probably the most famous of rangers is Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon. Each of her 17 mysteries takes place in a different national park. Sign on with the ranger contingent and you’re in for quite a tour: C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett is a Wyoming game warden, Jessica Speart’s Rachel Porter is a Fish and Wildlife agent in Hawaii, and Ann Metikosh offers Undercurrent: An Environmental Mystery with Conservation Officer Charlie Meikle in Northern Ontario, Canada.
Lawyers, of course, go everywhere. Judith Van Gieson’s Neil Hamel series from the 90s, frequently had the Albuquerque lawyer using her skills in the cause of wildlife. The Wolf Pack (currently optioned for a movie) involves the issue of reintroducing the gray wolf in New Mexico, Raptor is about falcon poaching in Montana and Parrot Blues concerns parrot smuggling.
More recently, P.D Abbey’s Bailey Quinn is a lawyer for an environmental foundation in Seattle. The first book H2Glo billed as an “Environmental Misadventure” blends real information about the sources of bottled water with a fun cast of characters that don’t take themselves too seriously.
A bit more off the beaten path is Barry Silverstein’s Water’s Edge, featuring a retired environmental consultant in North Carolina and his chemical sniffing dog, Blackout. Mark Stevens’ Alison Coil is a city girl turned wilderness guide in Colorado. Alison is no shrinking violet and there are some graphic descriptions of hunting and processing animal carcasses.
For a more urban take, set in the near future, you can follow Robert P. Bennett’s blind computer expert in Blind Traveler’s Blues. Out to solve the murder of a bio-scientist he met on a plane to Chicago, he tangles with a group determined to make a deadly ecological statement in a world where the corn crop is dying off and earthquakes are an everyday occurrence.
Mary Anna Evans’ Wounded Earth has heroine Dr. Larabeth McLeod, scientist and owner of her own environmental firm. Evans uses her science background to weave in solid information about nuclear and environmental worst-case scenarios, as her protagonist is being stalked and threatened by an eco-terrorist.
Air, land and sea: there is something for everyone. Betty Webb’s Desert Wind has her Scottsdale, Arizona P.I., Lena Jones, looking into the past to solve a murder in the present. It involves uranium mining, pollution and atomic fallout from the fifties and includes a guest appearance by John Wayne.
Like your adventures underwater? Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series is always fun but Arctic Drift from 2008 (20th of the series) has NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency) searching for ways to stop Global Warming. Their mission leads them to investigate the mystery of an unidentified silvery metal hidden in the Arctic in an old forgotten ship.
But the best environmental mysteries may be the ones being written for kids. Jean Craighead George offers Julie’s Wolf Pack and The Missing Gator of Gumbo Limbo. Carl Hiaasen scores with Scat and Hoot, and Claire and Boris Datnow have created The Adventures of The Sizzling Six: Eco Mysteries that feature two teenage girls and their friends. In the third book of the series, The Living Treasure, the authors have added QR codes to take readers from the printed word to video clips online to let readers see and hear what the characters in the story are seeing and hearing.
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