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Dangerous Refuge
by Elizabeth Lowell
(Wm. Morrow, $26.99, PG-13 ) ISBN 978-0-06-213271-0
****
Dangerous Refuge is classic Elizabeth Lowell in terms of topical events for plot structure, sharp dialogue among her characters and the use of place to add dimension to her plot line. However, her latest novel features a plot that is far less complex that she usually offers.

The story opens as Shayne Townsend, an employee of the Conservancy, discovers the body of her friend Lorne Davis near his house in a remote Nevada area. Being a trained Search and Rescue Volunteer, she leaves him undisturbed, summons the authorities and his death is ruled to be from natural causes by the sheriff's office.

Los Angeles Homicide Detective Tanner Davis arrives in Refuge, Nevada because of the death of his Uncle Lorne Davis. He has presently been assigned morgue duty, either due to bitterness with burnout or because he is in great need of charm school. He meets Shayne that night as she stops by the Davis Ranch to make sure the animals are fed and watered, and Tanner antagonizes her as well.

What Tanner quickly learns is that a charitable organization known as the Conservancy has targeted small rural ranches in the area to acquire through donation in order to continue the environmental benefits of the preservation of small ranches. He discovers that his uncle had been working with Shayne and had agreed to donate his ranch to the Conservancy. Apparently the Conservancy employee Kimberli had brought the wrong papers for him to sign, the terms of which had been untenable to him and he had advised his attorney that he wanted to revise his will and cut the Conservancy out.

When Shayne relates to Tanner how she found his uncle, Tanner becomes suspicious as two things were contrary to his uncle's habits. One he had no hat on, or about him, and two he had his dress boots on. Arousing a detective's suspicions will generally always set in motion an investigation, especially when, although almost estranged from his uncle, he was still family.

Shayne is a California transplant who loves rural Nevada and who has come to love working with the small ranchers in the area. Although it is her boss Kimberli who meets and greets the wealthy, Shayne is not without social skills having been reared as the daughter of an expert social maven. She is assigned the project of trying to get the land that Lorne Davis had owned.

This is not a hardship as she and Tanner are immediately attracted to each other, and she welcomes the excuse of working with Tanner, just to be with him, and to do what she can to assist if Lorne's death was murder.

Elizabeth Lowell's feelings for the small rancher come through clearly as she makes the setting an integral part of the plot. As usual, her characters are well formed as she captures the essence of so many archetypes that she has cast in the book.

As the investigation matures, so the relationship between Tanner and Shayne speeds to the inevitable conclusion with Lowell's signature caustic dialogue and beautifully paced tension, in both the romance and the suspense.

--Thea Davis


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