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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.