South Dakota biologist O'Brien (The Spirit of the Hills, 1988, etc.) continues to write well about what he knows best--the places and people of the Black Hills--but still struggles to surmount the melodramatic clichÇs that have plagued his fiction. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent Margaret Adamson comes to the Black Hills to give final approval to a proposal to build condominiums on the hitherto unspoiled Brendan Prairie, only to watch in horror as a runaway earthmover plows down and kills the developer--a suspicious death that complicates matters professionally and personally as Margaret stays for the ensuing investigation and in the process renews contact with old flame Bill Malone. Malone, a dynamic wildlife enthusiast and highly regarded trainer of falcons when Margaret knew him 20 years earlier, has become a limping, subdued college professor and single parent, but his passion for the wilderness still comes through in his opposition to the Prairie's development. The old Bill reemerges when a wounded falcon is brought to him and he decides to save rather than euthanize it, thanks to the urging of daughter Allison and their gentle-giant friend Cooney. Meanwhile, the old attraction between Bill and Margaret is rekindled as well. She learns the painful truth about Allison's mother and the secret behind Bill's limp, so that when suspicion that he might have tampered with the deadly 'dozer finally surfaces, she's ready to fight for him. But others are too: Cooney confesses before Bill can be charged; then, when it becomes apparent that the real culprit, Allison, is about to come clean, Cooney makes the ultimate sacrifice, hanging himself in his cell--leaving the survivors resolved to make something more of their lives. This tale's first-rate location details and good intentions, unfortunately, aren't enough to overcome an uneven plot burdened by schmaltz, too many particulars on falcon-training, and serious problems too readily overcome.