Saturday, May 05, 2007

Pg. 69: Ashna Graves's "Death Pans Out"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test is Death Pans Out by Ashna Graves.

About the novel, from the publisher:

While recovering from a double mastectomy, journalist Jeneva Leopold seeks solitude and healing at her uncle's idle gold mine in the sagebrush desert of Eastern Oregon. Hiking the rocky ridges, swimming in the old mining pond, and ignoring the outside world save for occasional letters, Jeneva gains strength and a new will to live.

As her interest in life returns, so do Jeneva's journalistic habits. And though the locals are at first puzzled by all of her questions, she soon gets to know a young woman rancher, various miners, a quirky old artifact hunter, and an itinerant priest and medieval scholar. These people and other colorful locals give her the inside story on living in the harsh landscape of sagebrush and coyotes and revealing how the old west is changing under new economics and regulation.

But the Oregon desert is also a place of secrets. The more Jeneva talks with the locals, the more she wonders about her uncle's mysterious disappearance. Why did her uncle and her mother stop talking so many years ago? Does she know more than she is acknowledging? The murder of a young miner sends her on a quest for answers, leading her to an elderly woman artist living in a converted chicken house, a tongue-tied funeral home owner, and a swashbuckling sheriff with rule-bending tendencies.

The appalling business she uncovers shocks the region and nearly claims her life, but it also brings closure to an old family misunderstanding and the enigma of her uncle's fate.

Among the early praise for Death Pans Out:

"Engaging characters, evocative descriptions of a little-known area and a masterful mystery makes Graves's debut a riveting page-turner."
--Kirkus (starred review)

"In Graves's inspirational debut, 45-year-old Jeneva "Neva" Leopold retreats to her Uncle Matthew Burt's abandoned mining cabin in Billie Creek, Ore., for peace and healing after a double mastectomy and the recent loss of her mother. A columnist for the Willamette Current, the resilient, inquisitive Neva also hunts for clues to her uncle's disappearance from his mining claim 15 years earlier. She makes friends in the small desert community with colorful locals, including crusty artifact hunter Skipper Dooley, ex-beauty queen rancher Darla Steadman and miner Reese Cotter. Neva is horrified to discover the corpse of Reese's fellow miner, young Roy DeRoos, and is later skeptical when Reese is accused of murder. Strange events test Neva's courage, leading to a startling resolution that's both macabre and entertaining."
--Publishers Weekly

"Graves unearths a small, strong gem of a book."
-- Jeff Jensen, Entertainment Weekly
Visit the official website for Ashna Graves and Wendy Madar, and read an excerpt from Death Pans Out.

The Page 69 Test: Death Pans Out.

--Marshal Zeringue