Endangered, the first mystery in Pamela Beason’s absorbing new series released in December 2011 by Berkley Prime Crime, focuses on the female Indiana Jonesesque protagonist Summer “Sam” Westin whose high-tech freelance job allows her to combine her love for photography and wildlife biology. But when Sam returns to a national park in Utah to do a story on the family of cougars she helped rehabilitate and a three-year-old boy disappears, Sam’s story quickly loses precedence as she and FBI Agent Chase Perez scour the rocky canyons for clues that the child, Zachary Fischer, is still alive.
As the hours pass into days and no trace of the boy is found besides his red tennis shoe and toy truck, the media latches onto the theory proposed by Sam Westin’s high-profile news anchor boyfriend that the rehabilitated cougars might be responsible for Zachary’s disappearance and death. Tensions soar as hunters illegally descend upon the park to dispose of the cougars -- forcing the park rangers to choose between their continued search for the child and their maintenance of campground safety -- and a ransom note is sent to Zachary Fischer’s parents demanding fifty grand. Although the FBI captures the two high school boys the same night they pick up the ransom money, the mystery escalates as the boys reveal that they were to receive a cut of the money from a shaggy-haired man whose description closely resembles the missing boy’s father.
Frustrated by the media's hasty conclusions and her own plethora of dead-end clues, Sam Westin decides to take the boy’s disappearance into her own hands by journeying into Utah’s rugged high country completely alone--that is, until handsome FBI Agent Chase Perez destroys her solitude and her focus by choosing to accompany her.
From Sam and Chase’s moonlit hike across Rainbow Bridge, a tight-walker strip of limestone that spans the width of the canyon, to their rappelling into a crevice where “bands of pastel-colored rock rippled down like flowing curtains,” Beason draws upon her own experiences as a private investigator and wilderness adventurer to conjure forth Coyote Charlie -- a free-spirited vagabond who roams the cliff sides and howls up at the night sky along with the coyotes -- as vividly as the ancient ruins of The Anasazi:
The walls of the ruins were stacked sandstone, some still chinked with red mud mortar. A two-story town house stretched up to meet the limestone ceiling of the overhang. Tiger stripes of black desert varnish cascaded down from the arch above onto the buildings, furthering the illusion that the ruins were an overgrowth of the cliff.
Packed with as much poetic descriptions of nature as it is with suspense, Pamela Beason’s Endangered is a fast-paced mystery sure to leave readers in awe of the wilderness even as they peer into its tangled undergrowth, searching for either the cougar or kidnapper's glowing eyes.
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