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Posts Tagged ‘Montana’

THE BITTERROOTS by C. J. Box: Book Review

The Bitterroots are a mountain range situated in western Montana and the panhandle of Idaho, part of the Rocky Mountain chain.  In spite of its harsh-sounding name, it’s filled with natural beauty, featuring outstanding hunting, fishing, boating, and other outdoor activities.  But in C. J. Box’s latest novel, its beauty hides pockets of corruption, greed, and self-enclosed communities with secrets they want to remain hidden.

Cassie Dewell, once a deputy sheriff, is now the founder of Dewell Investigations, LLC.  As the novel opens she receives a phone call from Rachel Mitchell, a partner in a Missoula law firm, and a woman whom Cassie owes a favor.  Rachel wants her to investigate everything about the arrest of Blake Kleinsasser, who has been accused of raping his niece Franny; Cassie’s initial response is “No way.”

The Kleinsasser family is the dictionary definition of dysfunctional.  Blake, the eldest son of Horst and Margaret, is the only one who left the family ranch; in Kleinsasser terms, that’s treason and “the ultimate act of disloyalty.”  Blake has had a successful career in New York City; after a long absence he returns home with the intention of helping his siblings sell the ranch, which he tells them is in their best financial interest.  But his sister and two brothers don’t believe he came for unselfish reasons and say don’t want to sell the ranch at all.

Blake explains to Cassie and Rachel that many of his clan’s problems stem from the Kleinsasser Family Trust, a document drawn up by Blake’s grandfather.  According to that document, everything must be left to the oldest son in each generation, which is Blake in this case.  It is up to that son whether to keep the entire bequest or to share it with other family members.  The only way that heir would not receive the entire bequest, which currently consists of the ranch, is to denounce the family name or by committing “moral turpitude.”

Blake admits to having been drinking heavily for several days before the alleged rape took place.  He remembers picking up his niece from church that evening after she phoned him to do so, but he claims a total blackout about the rest of that night until the deputies came to arrest him the next morning.

The physical evidence against him appears overwhelming–his semen on Fanny’s underwear, his car’s tire tracks at the remote cabin where she told the deputies the attack took place, a whiskey glass at the cabin covered with Blake’s fingerprints–and then there’s Fanny’s testimony of what happened.  But Cassie does owe Rachel a favor, a big favor from a previous case, so despite her near certainty about the client’s guilt she agrees to investigate.

Luchsa County, home to the Kleinsassers, seems to be totally in their grasp.  It soon becomes apparent that the police and the courts are beholden to the family, thwarting Cassie’s efforts to discover the truth of what happened between Blake and his niece.  But she perseveres, and little by little a story different from the original one gets uncovered.

C. J. Box is the author of more than twenty novels, including the best-selling Joe Pickett series.  His mysteries have won the Edgar, Anthony, and Barry awards, among other prizes. 

You can read more about C. J. Box at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.



WALLEYE JUNCTION by Karin Salvalaggio: Book Review

Macy Greeley, a detective with the State Police in Montana, is nearing a house in Walleye Junction where the police believe a hostage is being held.  The hostage is Philip Long, a controversial radio personality in the area,  and Macy is slowing down her car and getting ready to search the building when Long staggers into the road.  Macy can’t stop quickly enough, however, and Long is thrown into her windshield and then flung on the ground.  Her car nearly careens into a ditch and she’s pinned upside down by the seat belt, unable to get loose, with her cell phone out of reach and her gun thrown out of the SUV.

Frantically trying to free herself, she hears a motor behind her and watches helplessly as a motorcycle plows into Long.  Macy watches in horror as a figure dismounts from the cycle, picks up her gun, and fires directly at Long.  As the shooter gets back on his machine and pulls away, Macy’s car spills over the ditch and she hits the water.  Somehow she’s able to pull herself out and limp toward the road, where a rescue vehicle picks her up, shaking, bruised, but thankfully alive.

Several days later she’s called to the scene of what at first appears to be the fatal drug overdoses of a local couple.  Walleye Junction police identify them as Carla and Lloyd Spencer, long-time drug addicts, although Carla had been in rehab recently.  The fingerprints on the van parked near the bodies match those in the house where Long had been kept, so it appears that there is a quick resolution to the abduction.  Then Macy notices gravel from the parking area on Lloyd’s cowboy boots, and she voices her opinion that Lloyd was dragged from the vehicle onto the field and that Carla was carried.  So it becomes apparent that a third person was involved in their deaths and probably in Long’s kidnapping as well.

Emma Long, Philip’s daughter, has returned for the funeral, twelve years after she left home.  She’d been in touch with her father during this time and had seen him several times, but the breach between Emma and her mother has only grown wider.  It’s been six years since they’ve seen each other, and it doesn’t look as if Emma’s homecoming is going to resolve any of the issues that drove them apart.  And now Emma also has to face her former boyfriend and the cruel taunting from her peers that drove her away in the first place.  It’s almost too much for her to handle.

Karin Salvalaggio has written a novel that will keep you guessing until the last chapter.  There are many undercurrents in the small town of Walleye Junction, conflicts that have gone on for years with no resolution.  But the murder of Philip Long and the deaths of the Spencers are bringing them to the surface.

You can read more about Karin Salvalaggio at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads 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.