by Cynthia Chow
& Mary Frisbee
One of the ways that KRL is celebrating Earth Day is to focus in this issue only on e-books. So check out this review of Mary Frisbee’s mystery e-book and a guest post by Mary on the environmental aspect of her books–the fact that her amateur sleuth is an environmental activist. There are details at the end of this post on how to win a copy of Keyhole Spring, and be sure to check out all of the other mystery e-book reviews & giveaways, along with a few other Earth Day related articles in our special Earth Day issue! You can also check out more Going Green articles in KRL’s Going Green section!
Keyhole Spring By Mary Frisbee
Review by Cynthia Chow
After some very traumatic events in their lives, Montana University art professor and environmental activist Trout Brooke is happy to spend some recovery time with her mother Mary Beth during the December holiday break. Joining them is Tommy Sharpe, a twelve year-old girl who was kidnapped and molested, and who desperately needed some vacation recovery time. The Sharpe family believes that Brooke is uniquely qualified to provide empathy to the charming and precocious girl since Brooke was responsible for Tommy’s rescue, and was also a previous victim of sexual assault.
In alternating chapters with the present, Brooke shares her experience as an art professor in 2008 when, amidst tedious faculty meetings and dealing with explosive artistic students, she was brutally raped in her home by an attacker she cannot identify. Although Brooke was used to the sexism of academia, it was far more frightening not knowing if her attacker was one of her fellow professors, a student, or someone she passed by on the street. Never one to back down from a fight, though, Brooke responded by taking self-defense classes along with practicing at the shooting range. Unfortunately, her unwillingness to play the victim left her the prime suspect when the serial rapist responsible for her attack was murdered and all evidence seemed to point to Brooke.
Despite the graphic description of Brooke’s attack, her refusal to blame herself and Tommy’s mature attitude, combine to make this a very positive exploration of recovery from crime and sexual assault. Frisbee never shies away from the police and the public’s attitude towards sexual assault, as college frat boys view Brooke as a joke and public property, and the media portrays her either as a vigilante or advocate for justice.
The latter half of the novel becomes a more traditional mystery as Brooke enlists her investigator godfather in an investigation to exonerate herself, and then becomes her own advocate for justice. Brooke is infuriated by being framed and victimized twice for her attack, so she is relentless in her pursuit of the trail of crime left by her rapist, Wayne Ripplinger.
For all of the somberness of the theme, the tone never becomes too dark–Brooke continues to maintain her humor and each chapter begins with comical bumper sticker phrases and ends with Brooke reading a novel that somehow reflects the situations she has been facing. Josephine Tey, Tana French, Laurie King, and even Richard Russo become readings of solace and wisdom for Brooke, and teach her lessons that can be shared with readers. Just as interesting are the author’s explorations of victimization, either as a people (such as the Native Americans or the Jewish during the Holocaust) or as an individual. The aftermath of crime is often not seen and Frisbee reveals it as part of the process of recovery and gradual reclamation of strength. Brooke’s strength, positive attitude, and surprising sense of humor make this a refreshingly entertaining read that slyly forces the reader to confront an uncomfortable topic, yet the book never strays too far from being a fast-paced traditional mystery.
Environmental Aspects of My Novels
By Mary Frisbee
Trout Brooke: Environmental Activist And Sleuth
“Brooke clambered under the bridge and peed into the water at the creek edge, tucking her used toilet paper into a Ziploc bag. Environmentalists were split about the least damaging way for humans to urinate in the wilderness, but one view espoused going directly into moving water. Because urine is inherently sterile, it disperses without harm. The other theory was to pee two hundred yards away from the water source onto rock or bare ground. Wasn’t going to happen – she was on completely open range and was damned if she’d squat bare-assed in view of ranch hands and travelers on the road. In any case, it scarcely mattered. People peeing in the wilderness didn’t damage the wilderness. People mining, logging, and drilling damaged the wilderness.”
-From Puzzle Creek
The protagonist of my three mystery novels–Satori Ranch, Puzzle Creek, and my newest book Keyhole Spring–is a tree-hugging, dog-loving, book-reading, thirty-something art professor named Trout Brooke by her hippie parents. An environmental activist living in Montana, Brooke paints huge panoramas of environmental disasters. Brooke’s motivation is sheer rage, her subject matter toxic water, polluted air, ripped up–all the leavings of stupid, venal humans. She works on big canvases, the better to get viewers’ attention by inescapably filling their vision, the proportion panoramic to underscore the landscape. She makes the paintings technically beautiful to draw viewers in, painting honestly and bluntly to get her point across. Depicting the ugliness of her subject matter, Brooke surrounds ruination with the pristine beauty of the earth or sky as a way of jolting people into recognition of the extent of the damage.
While environmental issues have yet to become the basis for the murder plots in the series, in each book Brooke paints a different catastrophe. In Satori Ranch she explores the Anaconda Company’s Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana, arguably the worst superfund site in the country. Experts from all over the world have tried to figure out how to clean up the 675-acre lake of deeply toxic water left after years of ruthless copper mining. In this painting, Brooke depicts the sun low in the western sky casting a warm yellow glow, the shadows deep blue-violet. The millions of gallons of rust-colored water in the lake–poisoned with copper, cadmium, lead, zinc, and arsenic that once exterminated 342 migrating snow geese who had the misfortune to land on the lake’s surface–gleam with a sinister quality, built up with layers of under-painting and glazes. The absolutely sterile sides of the pit rise in tiers, flanked by the dry sienna and olive hills of the Deer Lodge National Forest to the east and the modest frame houses of Butte to the west. She imbues the painting with a sense of the huge scale of the pit and the gruesome nature of the water. A rowboat is tied up to the rail of a pitted dock extending into the evil liquid. As she paints, Brooke shivers, imagining Latvian and Korean scientists traveling halfway across the world to Montana to lend their expertise in solving the conundrum, then being asked to suit up and venture out into the malevolence of the reservoir in such a frail vessel.
In my new book, Keyhole Spring, Brooke works on a painting of the Suncor Millennium Oil Sands Mine, an open pit north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, sited along the Athabasca River. But to say the Suncor mine is a pit is like calling the Pacific a puddle. The thing is titanic, appalling–a fifteen square kilometer “scrape” in the earth. The point of view is from the air, the composition taking in most of the pit, the painting almost abstract. The four-part, 9′ by 17′ canvas focuses on the writhing black, orange, salmon, and cream twists of knotted roads, tailings, scrapings, diggings, ponds, multicolor piles–the very definition of the earth defiled and violated. Incongruously, the highly polluted ponds reflect a serene pale-blue sky, forming a series of innocent-looking dots across the mass. Up close the viewer can see teensy, detailed three-story Caterpillars wreaking havoc, and myriad 400-ton trucks crawling like busy ants across the surface. On the far horizon stretches a slice of pristine boreal forest, the coniferous forest, wetlands, and bogs making up much of northern Canada. It was from this beauty the mine was wrested.
Brooke visually challenges the viewer to compare and contrast: Where would you rather live? She finds the world to be stunning, both in its vileness and its beauty, as dreadful as it is lovely, as lovely as it is dreadful. Her work as described in my novels is a way of warning people to keep constant vigilance.
To enter to win an e-book copy of Keyhole Spring, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “Keyhole”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 27, 2013. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.