Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


DEAD MAN’S FANCY by Keith McCafferty: Book Review

Rivers and mountains, trees and trails.  That’s what most people think of when they think of Montana, the Big Sky country.  But even beside the beautiful Papoose Mountains, there is murder.

Sheriff Martha Ettinger is looking for Nanika (Nicki) Martinelli, the fly fishing guide/dude ranch naturalist who is missing from the Culpepper ranch.  Nicki had gone out with a group of tourists and another guide from the ranch, said she would take the long road back alone, and never returned.

As part of the search party, Martha is riding up a mountain trail when she sees a body in the snow.  Closer examination shows that it’s not Nicki but one of the Culpepper wranglers who had started searching for her before the sheriff was called in.  And the wrangler has an elk’s antlers piercing his midsection.

The missing Martinelli woman had cast a spell over nearly all the men in the Madison River Valley.  Before she joined the staff at the Culpepper spread, she worked as a river guide at Sam Meslik’s place, a job that led to a brief sexual relationship between the two.  And just two nights before she went missing, Sam and the now dead wrangler got into a fist fight over Nicki.

The issue of wolves in Montana runs through the novel.  The reintroduction of wolves into the state in the mid 1990s was, and still is, controversial.  Most ranchers and farmers oppose it, claiming that the wolves would devastate animal herds, while environmentalists and tourism groups claim the wolves could be contained and bring in much needed revenue from outside the state.  In Dead Man’s Fancy, the anti-wolf group believes that Nicki was killed by a marauding pack of wolves, and after she has not been found following a search of several days, their point of view gains adherents.

Knowing that Sam is Sean Stranahan’s close friend, Martha calls Sean back from a fishing trip to talk to Sam and get the full story about his relationship with Nicki.  Sean, also a fishing guide, has a private investigator’s license and has helped Martha out in previous cases.  After speaking with Sam, he starts looking more deeply into the life of the missing Nicki.

His search takes him to the county where she had lived with her father, to a sheriff whose county has been poisoned by asbestos, to Martha’s cousin who is getting ready to marry a wealthy widow despite the opposition of her family.

The characters in Keith McCafferty’s series have grown and matured over the three novels in the series.  Sean is still a man searching for his place in the world, or at least his place in Montana, but he seems closer to finding it.  And Martha Ettinger has become more self-confident and assured in her role as sheriff.  They both have baggage from their pasts, but they seem to be more at ease with themselves and each other now.

Keith McCafferty brings the Treasure State to life.  His love for the outdoors is obvious and not surprising given his position as Survival and Outdoor Skills editor of Field & Stream.  Just as impressive as his ability to bring his home state alive is his ability to make his characters real.  Both recurring characters and new ones are vibrant, believable, and make us care about them.  I’m already eager to read the next book in the series.

You can read more about Keith McCafferty at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.




Leave a Reply