George Kilgore of northern California--former marijuana-grower, ex-forest ranger, now a grower/planter of tree seedlings--finds the murdered body of his old pal Tom Blackwell, a herpetologist specializing in salamanders. Why was Tom killed? Because of rumored drug-smuggling? Or because Tom knew something about Limestone Canyon, a wilderness area now threatened with a controversial dam project? Did Tom find something rare in the canyon--something that would support the environmentalists' opposition to the dam? Indeed, amateur sleuth Kilgore--a likably gritty, ignoble sort--finds a seemingly unprecedented turquoise amphibian in Limestone Canyon, which is soon stolen from Kilgore's barn! But: ""Would somebody kill for a salamander, even if it was unknown or rare and did live in a creek that some people wanted badly to dam?"" Kilgore thinks not--as his suspicions turn instead to Tom's seductive girlfriend (also a herpetologist), and above all to local landowner Alec Rice: a shady megalomaniac whose involvements seem to include refugee-smuggling and an illicit trade in rare species. Overextended in the final chapters, with drawn-out revelations and slow-moving showdown action in the Klamath Mountains--but a solid, crisply narrated mystery-debut from the author of The Klamath Knot (1983), with lots of vivid flora/fauna atmosphere (but a blessed minimum of eco-spirituality and sermonizing).