Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cozy Mystery Blog Tour: Author Guest Post, Review & Giveaway: Murder Off the Beaten Path (Search & Rescue #2) by M.L. Rowland

As a member of a mountain search and rescue team, Gracie Kinkaid routinely volunteers to put her life on the line. But it’s at her new day job at a residential camp in the mountains of southern California where she finds her life is really in danger…

As a volunteer for Timber Creek Search and Rescue, Gracie responds to a call out for a car that’s gone over the side of a treacherous mountain road. The crash, which Gracie quickly suspects is no accident, proves to be one in an escalating and deadly series of events that lead her right back to Camp Ponderosa, a church-owned camp where she works as Program Director. As Gracie probes more deeply into the dark secrets at the camp, she unearths a hidden world of illegal activities, including murder…and finds herself going head-to-head with desperate perpetrators who will do anything to silence her forever.

Search and Rescue has traditionally been a male-dominated field and, for the most part, still is. For about a dozen years, I was a very active member of a very active Search and Rescue team in the mountains of southern California. For almost two of those twelve years, I was the only woman on the team. 

One question I’m asked a lot, mostly by women, is what it’s like to be a woman on Search and Rescue.

Some teams have a lot of women members; some not so many. Sometimes this is due to the normal ebb and flow of membership of a volunteer team, sometimes to the demographics of the community it serves and from which the team draws its members, sometimes, in my opinion, to how women on the team (and women in general) are treated.

In my Search and Rescue mystery series, Gracie Kinkaid is one of the only women on Timber Creek Search and Rescue. An excerpt from “Zero-Degree Murder,” the first book in the series:  “Ordinarily ten men to one woman might be a to-die-for ratio. But more often than not, Gracie found that working with so many Manly Men for so many hours, often days at a time, took its toll on her. She could take only so much crotch arranging, and fart and blonde jokes before she began to crave a bubble bath or painted her toenails petunia pink.”

On our team, while minimal allowances were made for women on the mandatory physical fitness test, there was no difference in what was required in all other aspects of team membership. To qualify as a SAR Technician, Level II, as required by our team to operate in the field, we all had to pass the same National Association for Search and Rescue written and field tests which included the Incident Command System, tracking, basic survival, search tactics, and land navigation and orienteering.

While operating on a team of mostly men, I never expected anything from them that I wasn’t prepared and able to do for them. In other words, I didn’t expect special treatment based on my gender. I held my own, carried my own weight. I worked as hard as, sometimes a lot harder than, every other member of the team. What I lacked in physical strength, I tried to more than make up for in other ways:  training, knowledge, expertise, and commitment.

While on a mission, when lives, including our own, were at stake, I depended on my teammates and they needed to be able to depend on me for anything and everything. 

Was Search and Rescue work often difficult and physically demanding? Yes. Was working in close proximity with so many Manly Men challenging at times? Absolutely. Do I ever wish I had done something else with my life during those years on the team? Not for a second!

How far would you go to save the life of a stranger? Jump out of a helicopter into four feet of snow? Sleep outside in the winter? Dangle on a rope over the edge of a cliff?

M.L. Rowland has done all of these things and more, all in the line of service as a mountain Search and Rescue volunteer. During her twelve years on Search and Rescue, Rowland participated in hundreds of search and rescue missions and trainings, including technical ropes rescues, helicopter insertions and evacuations, and searches for lost children, hikers, snowboarders, mountain bikers and criminal evidence, in alpine, desert and urban environments. She served as the team’s Training Officer and participated in community events and public speaking engagements. Trained in land navigation, and desert and winter survival, including avalanche awareness and self-arrest, she holds a certification in tracking from the State of California. Rowland also served as a member and on the Board of a Colorado County Sheriff’s Department All-Hazards Incident Management Team (IMT) which manages local search and rescue operations, brush and wildfires, planned community events and other critical incidents.

Rowland is an avid political activist, naturalist and environmentalist. She lives with her husband, Mark, and their chocolate lab, Molly, at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in south-central Colorado.

This series is so interesting and empowering!  I absolutely loved reading about the life of a woman, Gracie, that belongs to a search and rescue team.  What makes it all the more amazing, is knowing that the author has personal, first-hand experience with the situation.  It's like living vicariously as her, through Gracie.  It's a wonderful recollection of that life, and the story itself is unbelievably thrilling.  

One thing that I've grown to admire about the cozies, is the presence of a strong, independent woman.  It thrills me to know that these characters are empowering women to be themselves and to take pride in being so independent and strong.  That's one of the things that I absolutely adored about Gracie.  She is the epitome of this, and her battles, while at times remarkably chauvinistic, are similar to those that we, as women, encounter every single day.  And boy, it sure is a relief to see characters like Gracie!  

The storyline itself is also creative and fun.  It's thrilling, and as Gracie uncovers secrets and clues, I frantically turned the pages, eager to know what happens next.  It's a fantastic mystery with a few twists and turns.  It's educational (as I had no idea what all went in to a search and rescue mission team), and it's clever.  I cannot wait to continue reading this amazing series!  

Rating: 5 stars 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  All conclusions reached are my own.  

Thanks to the awesome ladies at Penguin, I have 1 paperback copy of Murder Off the Beaten Path by M.L. Rowland to give away to one of my lucky readers!  Just enter the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win, and be sure to keep checking back for more awesome giveaways! 

  a Rafflecopter giveaway


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