Ned Carr is a hardrock stiff, a miner whose prejudices against Aspen skiers and environmentalists are as ancient and unproductive as the silver mine they'd all like to shut down, burying it in ski trails or ruling it off-limits forever. But Ned is even stiffer than the other old-guard miners, since he's just been blown up in one of his beloved mine shafts. Sidelined Pitkin County sheriff Kurt Muller, reentering the lists on behalf of Ned's grandson Hunter, wants to track down the bad guys; to prove, against eyewitness testimony, that they didn't include any of his own staff; and to rescue Hunter from human predators looking to eat his lunch, and maybe his bones. What he finds instead--when he can pin down the interested parties long enough to parley with them--is that Ned's misanthropic partner Tyler Rutledge and Kurt's own old flame Katrina Pfeil are hiding secrets that won't bear the light of day; that Ned had thrown in his lot with the greedy, powerful Free West Legal Coalition, an octopus whose tentacles reach as far as fictionalized versions of Ted Turner, Jane Fonda, and Rev. Sun Myung Moon; and that Free West is as enterprising in protecting his own interests (Ned's murder is only the beginning) as it is untouchable. Not much mystery about whodunit, then, but Muller, a cop with a rare talent for pointed meditation, unearths so many well- planted surprises en route to the final roundup that only the captious would complain. A marked advance over Muller's sprawling, unruly debut (Into Thin Air, 1995), and one of the year's happiest surprises.