by M.L. Rowland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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M. L. Rowland’s debut thriller in her new Search and Rescue (SAR) Mystery series, Zero-Degree Murder. is addicting. In this story’s first installment, Gracie Kinkaid, fiercely independent as well as highly-competent SAR team member, must brave the freezing temperatures of the California mountains to rescue a team of hikers who never returned from an afternoon trek. What should have been a simple matter of locating them and guiding them home turns into a race against a murderer intent on hiding his identity by killing everyone on the mountain. The story is told through the eyes of several characters, giving us a well-rounded idea of the stress accompanying everyone’s part in this drama. This is the only downside of the story: Some of the characters are there solely for reactions to events–though probably also to build their background for future books in the series. As a result, they slow the story down a bit. It didn’t make me stop reading, just rushed me through the scenes more than Rowland would have liked–and it’s the only reason I gave it a 4. I suspect Rowland has fixed this in future novels.
Gracie Kinkaid is a wonderful character. She’s smart, clever, loud-mouthed, with instincts that guide her through what for anyone else would be sure death. She is authentic and endearing with enough flaws to be completely lovable. She is between jobs, but instead of worrying how to pay her bills, she is enjoying her freedom. The only thing she really gets along with is Nature and Nature, through Gracie’s eyes, is stunning:
“…followed the trail as it meandered along the natural contours of the mountain. In, out, and in again. Rising, falling, then rising again. ...On the steep canyon walls above and below the trail, their headlamps spotlighted curl-leaf mountain mahogany and huge mounds of manzanita with smooth bark as deep and rich in color as venous blood. All around them, the eerie skeletons of dead pine trees loomed…”
Throughout, Rowland tells the story with a bright sense of humor that lightens even the direst of circumstances. When discussing how the newly fallen snow could hide Gracie’s location from the killer who’s tracking her, she adds:
“And that the man would slip and fall and break his f***ing neck.”
OK. Maybe that’s my morbid, thriller-hungry side showing.
Thanks to Rowland’s real-life experience in Search and Rescue, the details of how Gracie not only survives but thrives whatever Nature throws at her comes across as not only authentic but scintillating, albeit bitterly cold. Scenes like this are typical:
“Breathing in through her nose, she [Gracie] planted the end of her ice axe, kicked a step in the snow and placed her foot until her crampons grabbed. Then, while breathing out through her mouth, she pushed up, straightening her leg and momentarily resting the muscle. Then she took another breath and another step. Another breath. Another step.”
You see what I mean–I can’t wait to read the next two books in the series.
More thrillers/mysteries about nature:
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.