WOLF IN THE SHADOWS
356 pages, $18.95
Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone may not be the flashiest private eye around, but she's certainly one of the most enduring: The San Francisco-based sleuth cracked her first case back in 1977. With the paperback reissue of Ms. Muller's earlier novels and the release of this fine new effort, now is the ideal time for mystery fans who haven't discovered McCone to see what they've been missing.
In "Wolf in the Shadows," Sharon finds herself at a turning point -- her longtime employer, the All Souls Legal Cooperative, wants to tie the free-spirited investigator to a desk job. Angry, Sharon skips town to search for her missing boyfriend, Hy Ripinsky. Her initial inquiries turn up disquieting information: Before he vanished, Hy had been employed by a security firm to deliver a $2 million ransom to the abductors of a prominent CEO.
The likely conclusion is that Hy stole the money. Sharon, desperate to clear his name before the chief of the security firm makes good on a promise to kill him, realizes that the only way she can save her lover is by putting herself in mortal danger.
As usual, Ms. Muller's prose is spare, but she's cooked up a dazzler of a plot. Environmental terrorism, illegal aliens and biotechnology all figure in this complex tale, but Sharon's steely resolve and sharp investigative tactics are what really make "Wolf in the Shadows" shine. Lynn met her future husband, Robert Ferguson, when they worked in the same Midwest corporation. Lynn was just one of the workers in the office; Robert was a future star. After their marriage, they move to Connecticut, where Robert rises swiftly in the company and Lynn devotes her life to the family. On the surface, they have everything. But Robert displays an anger and an increasingly violent temper.
At first, Lynn rationalizes Robert's anger by managing to blame herself. Only when her two daughters begin to be affected by Robert's bullying does Lynn begin to realize that the culprit in the family is Robert. But recognizing the source of a problem is not the same as taking action.
This is the 12th novel by Belva Plain. Usually, the theme of her work is a multigenerational family. While "Whispers" is a family chronicle, it is a radical departure from her previous novels, for spouse abuse is not an easy subject to tackle. Still, it is to Ms. Plain's credit that she can take such a troubling subject and weave it into a complex and textured novel of a contemporary family in crisis.
WALKING DOWN THE WILD: A
JOURNEY THROUGH THE
Simon & Schuster
204 pages, $20
For more than a decade, it's been called the "sagebrush rebellion" -- the protest among ranchers, farmers and businessmen over government's generally hands-off stewardship of its vast land holdings. Gary Ferguson, a Montana resident and writer of hiking guides, refers only occasionally to the sagebrush rebellion in this book, but it's clearly a major impetus behind his decision to embark on a 500-mile trek roughly circling two national parks, Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
What he finds is joy and danger: joy in natural springs, frigid mountain mornings and chance trail encounters with two- and four-footed beasts, and danger in the guise of grizzly bears, thin ice and rapacious human development. It's the last that proves most frightening, for commercial interests threaten everything else: Entering Targhee National Forest from Yellowstone seems to Mr. Ferguson like stepping from the Louvre into a junkyard, the park perfectly defined by the clear-cut lumbering up to its border.