Friday, April 8, 2011

The Outdoor-Oriented Mystery Subgenre

My March release, Deadly Currents, is the first book in my new Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. The book has already received stellar reviews from the big four review publications, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, on-line reviewers and, most importantly, from readers who live and work in its real setting.

Being a person who loves and works in the outdoors every day, Mandy is one in a long line of outdoor-oriented mystery protagonists. These include:

- Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon, a Ranger in various National Parks,

- C. J. Box’s Joe Pickett, a Game Warden in Wyoming,

- Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak, an ex-DA Investigator in Alaska,

- Joseph Heywood’s Grady Service, a Conservation Officer in Michigan,

- Sue Henry’s Jessie Arnold, a Dog Sled Racer in Alaska,

- Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight, a PI who runs a hunting camp in Michigan,

- Sandi Ault’s Jamaica Wild, a BLM Resource-protection Agent in New Mexico,

- William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor, an ex-sheriff and PI in Minnesota,

- Jessica Speart’s Rachel Porter, a Fish and Wildlife agent in Louisiana, and many more.

The regional landscape is an essential element of the scene-setting in these series, and it factors into the backstory, ethics and training of the characters. Also, the challenges the outdoor setting provides are woven into the plots, adding problems that the protagonist most overcome in addition to solving the murder. And these problems provided by the environment can be life-or-death issues in themselves, including horrendous storms, raging wildfires, bone-numbing cold and being lost in an unforgiving wilderness without supplies, food, or water.

With these outdoor-oriented series, readers can experience the splash of a whitewater rapid, the whistle of a prairie wind on a trail ride, the roar of a crackling wildfire, the howl of a wild wolf and more from the security and comfort of their easy chairs. And Deadly Currents is true to the subgenre, plunging the reader into the Arkansas River in Colorado in the first chapter when a raft flips in a Class IV rapid, spilling its occupants and forcing Mandy to leap to the rescue.

The river permeates every scene of Deadly Currents, even in influencing how the characters speak. It is the heart and soul of Salida, Colorado, where Mandy lives. It fuels the small town's economy and thrums in the blood of its “river rat” citizens who earn their living guiding, outfitting, and catering to all the needs of a flood of summer tourists eager to test their mettle against the rapids.

Paddling down whitewater rapids in kayaks and rafts is one of the nation's fastest growing outdoor sports. Whitewater enthusiasts might be stereotyped as mindless thrill-seekers with a death wish, but paddlers come from a cross-section of American society. They usually know the limits of their skills, and by choosing what class of rapids they run, they control the intensity of their experience. It is a life-long sport that nurtures a love for wild places. Today more than a quarter of all Americans participate in – or intend to participate in – running whitewater rivers.

My hope is that Deadly Currents will appeal not only to these people, but also to mystery readers who have no desire to experience whitewater rafting themselves, but are happy to ride along with Mandy in their minds while they puzzle out “whodunit.” Do you enjoy reading outdoor-oriented mysteries? Are you an outdoor enthusiast yourself, or do you prefer to just read about the challengers of the great outdoors?


Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series (A Real Basket Case, a 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and To Hell in a Handbasket, 2009) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. The first, Deadly Currents, was just released in March, 2011 to great reviews. Beth lives in Colorado and enjoys its many outdoor activities, including skiing and whitewater rafting, and loves talking to book clubs. Please visit her website at and her blog at


  1. What fun. I'm very much looking forward to starting this series. Good luck.

  2. Thanks, Mare, for your comment, and thanks to the Stiletto Gang for having me as a guest today. Of course, I've been reading a lot of outdoor-oriented mysteries myself since deciding to plunge into the subgenre. (Sorry, there's just going to HAVE to be a lot of whitewater references in my comments! ;) ) Anyway, there's some great writing in these mystery series set in the great outdoors. Dive right in!

  3. Beth, your photo with your kayak paddle is making me think of a lazy days on the river here. Alas, it's too cold. Thanks for stopping by Stiletto. Looking forward to seeing you later in the month. Maggie

  4. Hi, Beth! So happy you're with us today. White water rafting sounds so cool. Since I don't get into the Great Outdoors much (because walking in my local park doesn't exactly count!), I love reading this type of series. It takes me places I've never gone before, and that's always fun. Best of luck with the launch!

  5. Thanks, Maggie and Susan, for your warm welcomes! I'm still hoping for a few more late April ski days in Breckenridge before turning my attention to whitewater rafting season, which begins in May. And Susan, my hope is that this new series will appeal not only to outdoor enthusiasts, but also to those who'd rather experience the splash and thrill of riding the waves while reading at home, safe and dry, like you.

  6. Hi, Beth, so glad you came to visit today. You live in a most beautiful area with all the snow. Love you books.


  7. Thanks, Marilyn! I agree--Colorado is a beautiful state, and I'm so thankful I'm able to live in it and enjoy its beautiful surroundings.

  8. And then, an ordinarily urban mystery series may head outdoors: In ON LOCATION a Rita Farmer mystery from Minotaur, author Elizabeth Sims sends Rita and her son deep into the woods (and raging waters) of the Pacific Northwest. And, Rita is a Hollywood actress!
    Of course, Elizabeth Sims was living deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest when she wrote it.
    I'm looking forward to reading DEADLY CURRENTS, Beth. And I DO want to try kayaking!