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Book Author: Keith McCafferty

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.




THE ROYAL WULFF MURDERS by Keith McCafferty: Book Review

I’ve never been fly fishing, or any other type of fishing to be honest.  But after reading The Royal Wulff Murders, I might just try it.

The book opens on the beautiful Madison River, a body of water that is reputed to have the best trout fishing in Montana.  Rainbow Sam, a grizzly river fishing guide, is there with a client when the client’s line hooks not a coveted rainbow trout but a bloated corpse. 

Sheriff Martha Ettinger is trying to put a name to the body; at first the death appears to have been a tragic accident.   Then the autopsy results show that the victim’s lungs had algae and certain microscopic bugs that are found only in lakes, not rivers.  There’s no good explanation for that finding other than murder.

Sean Stranahan is a newcomer to Bridger, Montana.  He left Boston, his ex-wife, and a minor career as a private investigator in an attempt to find a new, more satisfying life.   Sean’s dream is to support himself as an painter, but since the artistic life isn’t always the most economically feasible, he put “Private Investigations” in small letters on his office door as well as the more hopeful “Blue Ribbon Watercolors” in larger letters.

But, as luck would have it, the small lettering brought in a client, his first.  Sean had seen Vareda Lafayette when she was performing at a local club and was very much attracted by her striking looks and her way with the American songbook.  Perhaps that was what made Sean agree to her very unusual request–to find a specific spot on the Madison where her father fished the day before he died and then to cast his ashes there.  Vareda tells Sean that he’ll know the spot because her father always marked the trout he caught in a certain way before returning them to the water.  Sean is doubtful about the possibility of his finding the right spot and catching a fish so marked, but he agrees to try.

Oh, yes, Vareda tells him, as she prepares to leave his office.  There’s one more thing.  If you see my brother on the river, tell him I said hello and ask him to call me.

Crucial to the novel’s plot is the fact that the rivers of Montana are threatened by the whirling disease, which originated in Germany.  In America, trout are vulnerable and dying in large numbers.  The disease causes malformations in the trout’s skeleton as well as neurological damage and makes the fish whirl instead of swim in a normal way, making it easier for larger fish to catch them.  When Vareda tells Sean that her missing brother last worked in a fish hatchery where he thought something suspicious was going on, Sean begins to connect the dots.

Keith McCafferty is an award-winning journalist, and The Royal Wulff Murders is the first in a series featuring Sean Stranahan.  The author’s love of Montana, its rivers, and fly fishing is evident throughout the novel.  As the Survival and Outdoor Skills editor of Field and Stream, he is a man with a great deal of knowledge about the outdoors and how to live in it, enjoy it, and preserve it for future generations.

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

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