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Auburn murder mystery, dam politics revisited in community effort

One Book, One Community delves into “Nature Noir”
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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“Nature Noir” One Book, One Community

Schedule of events:

4-5 p.m. March 21: Book discussion of “Nature Noir”  led by Bart O’Brien and Steve Grundmeier at Placer School for Adults.

7-9 p.m. April 18: Janet Kovacich murder  cold case panel moderated by Capital Public Radio “Insight” host Beth Ruyak. 

10 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 20: Canyon tour with Mike Lunch of State Parks and “Nature Noir” author Jordan Fisher Smith. Register at

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7-9 p.m. April 23: Book signing and evening with the author. Placer High School auditorium.

6:30-8:30 p.m. April 25: Screening of “Under Our Skin,” a film about Lyme disease that Fisher Smith participated in. Nobile Room, Placer County Office of Education Annex building.

More information: E-mail

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A murder mystery, tale of political intrigue and a nature book, “Nature Noir” is getting a closer look in the community it is set in.

“Nature Noir,” a book written by retired Auburn State Recreation Area Ranger Jordan Fisher Smith, caused reverberations in not only the publishing  world in 2006, but also in Auburn.

Soon after Smith’s book was published and became a minor hit nationally with good reviews, it was revealed that Auburn Police had renewed a “cold case” murder investigation into the death in the early 1980s of Auburn housewife and mother of two Janet Kovacich. Her husband, Paul, would subsequently be arrested, tried and convicted of her murder.

Smith’s “Nature Noir,” dealt in depth with the Kovacich case. It also gave readers on a national scale a taste of Auburn dam politics and an insider’s look at the world of a State Parks ranger in the Auburn State Recreation Area.

Now, “Nature Noir” is the subject of a two-month-long reading event that opens up the book’s pages to the community to read and share.

The event, called One Book, One Community, is a program that encourages everyone to read the same book and then participate in discussions and activities about it.

“The goal of One Book, One Community is to promote reading, tackle illiteracy and foster page-turning togetherness,” said Bart O’Brien, president of the Auburn Rotary and board member of One Book, One Community.

Smith’s first-person account includes encounters with armed and rogue gold miners, the discovery of the aftermath of a fatal mountain lion attack of a runner in the recreation area, and even the day someone decided to drop a chicken off the Foresthill bridge with a parachute.

On Monday, about 40 Foresthill High School sophomore English students traveled to the American River Confluence area to learn more about “Nature Noir,” a book they had read earlier this year in class.

Foresthill High English teacher Mike Ramm said the book – and Fisher Smith’s expert grasp of the writer’s style – provided students with not only a look into the history and politics of the area but a connection to story they could relate to as local residents.

The book is being integrated into English classes as Placer Union High School District schools. The program is being sponsored by the Auburn Rotary Club, Auburn public Library and Placer County Office of Education.

“Former Placer High School English teacher Steve Grundmeier and I are former colleagues and he invited me because he’s now a Rotarian to bring the book “Nature Noir” into the classroom, courtesy of the Rotary Club” Ramm said. “Having read the book and being a Foresthill resident and teaching in Foresthill and knowing that students would really appreciate the local history, we took a shot at it. And Rotary even volunteered to pay for this field trip so it’s education at its best.”

On Monday, students took a bus into the canyon to be exposed to the trail below the bridge, the Hawver Cave and even some of the people who had made their way between the pages of the book.

“Everything that happened there is true and took place,” Supervising State Parks Ranger Scott Liske said.

Foresthill High student Mitch Whitney said that he felt connected with the book because of  the local focus.

“It was pretty cool because it’s about where we live and a lot of us knew what he was writing about,” Whitney said. “Most books in school we can’t really connect to because we don’t know where it’s at. It’s nice to read about something we’re so close to and places we’ve been to before and grown up at.”