Death Pans Out
by Ashna Graves

Poisoned Pen, 2007. ISBN 978-1-59058-475-0.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 12/15/2007

Fiction: Mystery

In Ashna Graves' debut mystery, Jeneva (Neva) Leopold arrives at the mining claim of a long lost uncle in the Eastern Oregon desert. She has come for recovery, healing, and solitude after her mother's death and her own debilitating ordeal with breast cancer. She finds less solitude than she had desired as she meets miners, ranchers, and others who view her with as much suspicion as she views them. However, Neva's growing love for the stark country breaks down inhibitions, hers and theirs. Her growing strength as she hikes and swims rekindles her curiosity about her uncle's mysterious disappearance. And therein lies a gripping story combining nature, mining, a passel of interesting characters and death, past and present.

Graves skillfully creates a sympathetic glimpse of the human element in a small-scale mining culture and the hardship of ranching and shows how our environmental enthusiasm can sometimes run over lives, if we don't consider the whole picture. She presents her view of some hard-scrabble folks who don't seem very likable at first, while leaving no doubt that she cares deeply about the land herself.

While she creates haunting landscapes and likable, ornery folks, Graves also creates a page-turner mystery. Neva uncovers secrets, both frightening and sweet and brings the gift of peace to the ghosts of her mother and her uncle.

Ashna Graves has written a winner! I hope she keeps on writing.

Ashna Graves lives in a small Oregon town where she is associate director of a humanities reserch center. She is drawn to the emptier regions of the American West. Visit her website.

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