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 A first novel, pitting environmentalists against ranchers, that's suspenseful, wonderfully written, and remarkably free of didacticism. The Uncle John Ranch, comprising some of the best grassland in Wyoming, has passed through three generations of the Shea family, landing in the custody of Roberta, now in her late 40s. Disillusioned with ``the war ranchers wage against wildlife,'' she's transformed the ranch into a raptor rehabilitation facility. Though Roberta is sharply at odds with an ethic that values human survival over avian, she's grudgingly tolerated by nearby ranchers, whose connections to the Shea family run deep. Carl Drummond, a longtime neighbor, discovers that two of his sheep have been slaughtered by coyotes, and he recklessly poisons the carcasses to fend off predators and protect his livelihood. But when two poisoned eagles are found, victims of a ``collateral kill,'' an outraged Roberta is determined to find the culprit. The sad outcome is both inevitable and gripping. Meanwhile, an array of auxiliary characters are skillfully developed: Roberta's husband, Glen, a politician who once managed the Uncle John and now rues its alteration; Muirie, Roberta's 23-year-old niece, who arrives from California hoping to take control of her own life; Sherman, the local veterinarian, who shares Roberta's passion but struggles with her over the ethics of animal euthanasia; and Flo, Carl's wife, an amateur painter who unintentionally implicates her husband. Only the outside media, faulted for stereotyping this insular community, are themselves portrayed stereotypically. Even the recuperating birds have personalities and important roles to play. Pointed as they are, the conflicts on the animate side of this ecosystem are nearly eclipsed by the raw power of the inanimate world--the fearsome western weather and the intoxicating geography. Altogether, a debut informed by a palpable love of land and open spaces. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 4th, 1997
ISBN: 1-56947-085-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Soho
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1997