David Rains Wallace. The Turquoise Dragon (1985) 230 pp.
This book is for readers who like a healthy dose of ecology with their mysteries. Horticulturist George Kilgore is making a quiet living growing seedlings and re-foresting logged areas in the Siskiyou Mountains of Trinity County. Kilgore is an ex-forest ranger who used to make quite a bit more money cultivating a higher value crop in the wilderness areas under his care. Then he discovers the murdered body of his friend Tom Blackwell in Blackwell’s Oakland home. Naturally, George is suspected of being the murderer himself by the Oakland police. So, he reluctantly begins his own investigation—which leads him back home to Trinity County in search of a rare blue salamander, the turquoise dragon. Along the way George meets a wealthy local landowner with a mysterious and sinister past who wants to hire him to re-forest a large section of his land. He also meets a beautiful herpetologist—rumored to have been the cause of Blackwell’s divorce—who is determined to discover the secrets of the dragons. George puts a lot of miles on his pickup, with several return trips south to the Bay Area and north to southern Oregon, as he uncovers a plot to use the salamanders as pawns in a war over the building of a dam and tangles with smugglers—of both drugs and exotic animals.
The fiction debut of noted naturalist-writer David Rains Wallace, whose non-fiction works have earned him the John Burroughs Medal and two Silver Medals for literature about California from the Commonwealth Club of California.
Setting: Oakland; Trinity County; Oregon