Elizabeth Lowell, whose previous works include the very clever "Blue Smoke and Murder" which uncovered the shenanigans in the world of fine art, has taken on the equally mischievous domain of land conservation versus real estate development in her latest work of fiction, "Dangerous Refuge." (William Morrow /373 pages).
Shaye Townsend works for the National Ranch Conservancy, an environmental group trying to spare family ranches from development and preserve western lands.
She has been courting Lorne Davis in hopes of preserving his beautiful ranch in Refuge, Nevada, just east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains when she discovers the elderly man, dead on his ranch.
But something about his death does not add up - especially when his dog had been poisoned earlier that day.
Lorne's nephew, Tanner, is an Los Angeles homicide detective and he finds plenty that is suspicious - including the fact that some very rare gold coins are missing from his uncle's home.
Shaye and Tanner quickly become involved in a modern day showdown with a greedy land developer and much like the range wars of the Old West - things
are dangerous and plenty of folks get caught in the crossfire.
"Dangerous Refuge" might be described as a romantic crime novel, as the relationship between Shaye and Tanner is hotter than Nevada in July.
Weaving facts with fiction is a specialty of Elizabeth Lowell, and she wisely
suggests that the controversial Supreme Court decision of Kelo v. New London, CT which allows government the right to seize private property and transfer it to real estate developers is a dangerous decision.
The premise of Lowell's novel has an element of realism even if one doubts that every crooked land deal results in murder.
But with the Kelo decision, the Supreme Court may have given far too much clout to avaricious real estate developers - a precarious situation for the average property owner who may not find any refuge in our legal system.