The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon
By Kevin Fedarko
Scribner$30; 415 pages
Kevin Fedarko's new book represents no mean effort. Millions of years of geologic history, waves of Anasazi, explorer Don García López de Cárdenas, Maj. John Wesley Powell, the Salton Sea, the Imperial Valley, Edward Abbey, Glen Canyon Dam's 10 million tons of concrete, the Sierra Club, dynamited boulders, a couple of Udalls, treacherous whitewater, an eroding dam wall and three wild guys in a wooden dory all play roles in this terrific account of a Colorado River-running feat through the Grand Canyon. Against the majesty of the canyon, journalist and river guide Fedarko relates two interwoven, simultaneous tales—one trying to control the river's fury; the other trying to ride it.
In June 1983, due to an unprecedented El Niño, the Colorado River flow was historically high. Fedarko follows the frantic efforts of the managers of the Glen Canyon Dam to prevent a disastrous overtopping and collapse, and the surreptitious, heart-stopping, 38-hour stunt of three river guides to use the increased flow to set a new canyon rowing record. Fedarko's research is exhaustive (but not exhausting), his prose is vivid and his storytelling is compelling. The Emerald Mile is an exceptional, unforgettable work.
Spirit of Steamboat
By Craig Johnson
$20; 146 pages
Western-, mystery-, crime- and thriller-writer Craig Johnson (the Longmire series, and the A&E drama Longmire) has deviated from his standard routine with this affecting little seasonal offering. Spirit of Steamboat features familiar Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire as narrator, but focuses on a liquor-loving World War II vet who's called upon to pull a creaky, old B-25 off the shelf to fly an injured girl through a blizzard, from Wyoming to Denver, on Christmas Eve. Told mostly in flashback—opening with Longmire doing his annual reading of A Christmas Carol—it's an action novella with a hint of Dickensian, "Christmas Past" magic.
Into the Night: Tales of Nocturnal Wildlife Expeditions
Edited by Rick A. Adams
University Press of Colorado
$26.95; 184 pages
When you think of scientists studying the migratory routes of bats or the effect of drought on a region, or searching for the elusive whip scorpion or the red-lipped batfish, you don't really think high drama. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that this collection of eight essays by scientists and naturalists about field work mostly conducted in the dark offers some action. You have some moments of danger (your bears, bull elephants, lions and sharks) and some moments of tale-worthy surprise (the snake in the bed; hairy spider in the boxers). Written in the casual voices of field scientists, these make interesting reading. (And the image of intoxicated biologists wearing only hats and boots meeting a "massive nest of social spiders" in an Ecuadoran rain forest lingers after the book is closed.)
The Rules of Wolfe
By James Carlos Blake
The Mysterious Press
$24; 258 pages
James Carlos Blake (Country of the Bad Wolfes, The Killings of Stanley Ketchel, In the Rogue Blood, among others) revels in bad boys. In this novel, he returns to the gunrunning Wolfe family of Texas, where impetuous, 19-year-old Eddie Gato Wolfe is rebelling against the family rule of "college before crime," and has taken off to work for a Sonora cartel. His impetuousness lands him in the wrong bed, and he then strangles the wrong boyfriend, so Eddie and a girl have to flee. Because the cartel controls the state, the two are always in danger, and Blake keeps up the tension from the moment they take off. Blake nails this book. The Rules of Wolfe bad guys are cleverly cruel (think of an enemy's tongue showing up in his widow's jar of jam), the good bad guys are violent but principled, and the Sonoran Desert shows up as an unexpected killer. It's a gripping, muscular tale.