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Ash Child [Hardcover]

Peter Bowen
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 5 2002 Gabriel Du Pre Novels
It's dry season in Montana, and fires blazing west of Touissant have spread to the Wolf Mountains. Métis-Indian fiddler, tracker, and reluctant sleuth Gabriel Du Pré suspects the fires have been intentionally set and are linked to the recent murder of Old Maddy Collins, an eccentric woman found in her living room, her head beaten in with a cast-iron hatchet. Du Pré's suspicions are heightened when two teenagers snooping around Maddy's house turn up dead in the mountains, buried beneath ash and riddled with bullet wounds.

With its sly wit and comic touches, combined with colorful characters and lyrical prose evocative of Montana, Peter Bowen's Ash Child makes for an exceptionally rich and deeply satisfying novel.

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From Publishers Weekly

This compelling series, set in a contemporary Wild West where little old ladies come into the saloon, order red beers and go home and shoot at meddlesome strangers, offers another success. Gabriel Du Pre (last seen in 2001's Cruzatte and Maria) is back, not in the best of health but as curious and stubborn as ever. An old woman, Maddy Collins (she of the red beers), is beaten to death, and when Du Pre looks into it, he's knocked on the head as well. Two teenagers, good kids who've chosen bad friends, jump out as obvious suspects. The two disappear, which seems to confirm their guilt. With the Montana weather dry and hot, the threat of fire hangs over the area, creating nearly unbearable suspense. Beyond basic safety measures, there's nothing that can be done to guarantee that the Wolf Mountains and all the nearby houses will not go up in flames. Sure enough, fire breaks out. The discovery of the two teenagers' bodies on a burned hill makes it tragically clear that they weren't guilty. As fires spread, the fear of arson spurs Du Pre to further danger in an effort to find the truth. Du Pre's beloved, Madelaine, confers with the wise old Benetsee as Du Pre goes up against the Forest Service. There's a wonderful drawl to the pace here: though there's plenty of action, there's also time to enjoy the laconic, highly nuanced language and to catch up on the interwoven history of these folks in the case of the mysterious, powerful Benetsee, a history may travel back centuries. It's a pleasure to read a story that was clearly written with pleasure.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Maddy Collins, a reclusive woman on the shady side of 80, is found dead in her little house near Toussaint, Montana, an ax driven halfway through her skull. Gabe Du Pre, part-time fiddler and occasional unofficial deputy, offers to help with the investigation. Suspecting that Maddy's murder has something to do with her house, he decides to watch the place; after seeing two teenagers lurking outside, he is knocked unconscious. When Gabe leaves the hospital, the driest season in years has sparked fires in the nearby Wolf Mountains. The firefighters find the two teenagers in one of the culverts, burned beyond recognition. Gabe is sure the death of Maddy, the two teenagers, and the Wolf Mountain fires are all related, but he will have to call on his Metis Indian magic and generations of pioneer common sense to understand the connection. Plot summaries of Gabe Du Pre novels are inevitably inadequate. Bowen's stories are always well constructed and very intelligent, but they are never about whodunit. Like so many outstanding but wildly different crime series, from James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux novels to Steven Havill's Bill Gastner series, the Du Pre stories are about a vanishing way of life and the determined souls who fight a rear-guard action to keep it alive. Du Pre and his Toussaint neighbors represent a proud rural America that resists the technological tsunami engulfing the land; they roll their own smokes, make music while they drink ditch whiskey, value old friends, and are suspicious of strangers. Don't miss them in this dazzling entry in a wonderful series. Wes Lukowsky
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't figure this one out Aug. 5 2002
Format:Hardcover
Maybe you have to have read the previous books in the Gabriel Du Pre series to know all the connections and relationships that make up this novel. I couldn't figure out whether Du Pre and Madelaine were married or just lovers and the book never made it clear. Du Pre runs around in a police cruiser complete with a light bar, is allowed by the local police to sleep in a crime scene, but has no police powers or offical status. He drinks ditches, whatever they are, and the only clue given by the novel is that they have whiskey in them. His reaction to almost anything that happens is to nod. "Du Pre nodded" must appear at least two or three times on every page.
I hate to be negative in the face of all this praise but this book just doesn't do it for me. I like a bit more clarity in what I read. I can put up with the unusual dialect but I'd like to know who's married to who and why Du Pre drives a police cruiser but isn't a law enforcement officer and please, for God's sake, somebody tell me what a "ditch" is!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and rewarding novel July 13 2002
Format:Hardcover
Wolf Mountain is dry and the fires are starting. It will be a fire of the century, Gabriel Du Pre knows. But when the fires actually start, there is more than simply nature. Du Pre may live in the boonies of Montana, but even the most remote part of America isn't immune to murder, arson, or drugs. When an old woman is murdered, Du Pre is thrust into a strange world where no one is exactly as they appear, but where the danger is incredibly real.
Author Peter Bowen uses a powerful and distinctive voice to describe the lives of the Metis Indians and the ranchers who survive in the harsh lands of Montana. Du Pre relies on a combination of bull-headed bravery, investigating, and Native American magic to learn the truth. In Bowen's novels, the magic is real, and the result is often close to magic itself.
With its wealth of intriguing characters and its vivid descriptions of the land and people of Montana, ASH CHILD is a fine and compelling novel. I would have liked to see a stronger connection between the drug angle and the rest of the mystery, but it is hard to quibble with Bowen's work.
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2.0 out of 5 stars a few gleams in the ashes April 18 2002
Format:Hardcover
Do not be cozzened by the fulsome praise of #1 into buying this book. Despite her claim, Peter Bowen does not do "for Montana what Tony Hillerman does for New Mexico". Nevertheless Ash Child contains some shiny nuggets of writing that may justify carting it home from the library.
Bowen's central characters are Gabriel Du Pre and Madelaine Placquemines, Metis (people of mixed Native American and European ancestory) living in "Toussaint" in central Montana. Gabriel has no visible means of support (we are told he used to be a brand inspector) and Madelaine works in the local bar. Bowen says he chose to use Metis because "the Metis are a great people, a wonderful people, and not many Americans know anything about them." Unfortunately Ash Child does little to alleviate that deficiency apart from rendering the dialogue of Gabriel and Madelaine into dialect. The reader learns nothing about the history or culture of Metis -- unless one assunes they all subsist on a diet of bourbon ditches and "pink fizzy wine" like Gabriel and Madelaine.
In Ash Child, Montana is beset by a disastrous summer of forest fires (as in 2000), a raging Methamphetamine epidemic and a rash of murders. Bowen's pair of unlikely Metis sleuths tackle all three problems with some help from a mysterious shaman named Benetsee who communicates with the "old ones" and has the power to make fire do his bidding. Perhaps one shouldn't expect a logical plot in such a setting, but it takes more than supernatural manifestations to explain away all the loose threads in this story.
There are some traces of real gold amid the clinkers -- vivid word-pictures and arresting phrases. Example: calling the thick ash on a burnt-over hillside "the shadow of the fire".
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5.0 out of 5 stars great Big Sky regional mystery March 23 2002
By Harriet Klausner TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Gabriel Du Pre is in the hospital recovering from a burst appendix when he hears the news that somebody killed Maddy Collins. Somebody smashed her head in with a hatchet and left, leaving the front door open. There is no obvious motive for the seventy eight-year old woman's death since she was a bit of a recluse and never bothered anyone. When Du Pre leaves the hospital, he camps out in the back of Maddy's house, hoping that the perp will return to the scene of the crime.

He doesn't find a killer but he does notice two seventeen year olds who are curious about the crime scenes. He lets them go and the next thing he knows he's back in the hospital because somebody banged him pretty badly on the head. Somebody burns down Maddy's house and the fire spreads to the nearby Wolf Mountains where the bodies of the two teens seen at Maddy's now are discovered with bullets in their bodies. Gabriel is determined to flush out the person who has wrecked such havoc on his little Montana town.

Peter Bowen does for Montana what Tony Hillerman does for New Mexico. His regional mysteries, starring the unique character Gabriel Du Pre, are picturesque, totally absorbing and utterly charming. The author is so descriptive that one can picture the town of Toussaint in the mind's eye. Anyone who has not read a "Gabriel Do Pre mystery is missing out on something special.

Harriet Klausner
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great color but the mystery isn't exactly solved Aug. 3 2004
By E. A. Lovitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was so puzzled by this book's ending, I picked up the Gabriel Du Pre mystery that comes after it ("Badlands") and read it just to see if it clarified "Ash Child."

It didn't.

It is frustrating to read even a good author like Bowen, when he winds down the end of a mystery without explaining exactly who the villain is, and why he committed his villainies.

Dang, Peter, I've felt like I've just been dragged through a seance in the sweat lodge with the inscrutable Benetsee. Maybe the solution will come to me in a dream.

Meanwhile the Forest Service comes out of this book nearly as whupped as the readers. Bowen relishes taking on any bunch that restricts the freedom of Montanans, including environmentalists in "Wolf, No Wolf," Yuppie tourists in "Cruzatte and Maria," and the FBI in nearly all of his Gabriel Du Pre mysteries. This time the Forest Service comes under attack for not managing its land correctly and for preventing the ranchers from bulldozing fire breaks on their own property. Smokey the Bear's green-shirts endure some pretty scatological commentary, especially after one of them tries to make Du Pre put out his cigarette.

It's the author who's a'growlin and a'prowlin in "Ash Child."

Even Bowen's serial detective, Gabriel Du Pre takes a beating. In this book, he busts his appendix, gets his head dented in, is zapped by a taser, and is nearly burned alive. If you've ever fantasized about living the good life in rugged Montana, you should read all of Bowen's Du Pre mysteries before making your move. Newcomers and old hands alike die by avalanche and grizzly, by gunshot and knife, and by freezing to death in Alberta Clippers. They are burned to death in forest fires and poisoned by evil industrial magnates. It's a tough life even for a tough Metis brand inspector like Du Pre.

In spite of all my negative commentary, if you are already a Du Pre fan you should read "Ash Child." The Big Sky Country is choked by the smoke and ash of deliberately-set forest fires as Bowen's laconic detective sets out (between stays in the hospital) to discover who murdered an old woman with a single, vicious hatchet chop. Do not let yourself be deflected by plot elaborations involving arsonists, drug dealers, and meth addicts. Concentrate on Du Pre's patient tracking of the murderer of old Maddy Collins, and you will find "Ash Child" to be a very satisfying read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "For he is like a refiner's fire" Aug. 24 2004
By Marc Ruby™ - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When an old and crazy woman is killed in her house Gabriel Du Pre, Montanan, Metis Indian, and Peter Bowen's primary adjuster of fate, is drawn into the investigation. Just out of the hospital, Du Pre is promptly knock out cold while the woman's cabin and a friend's dog are burnt to ashes. What unfolds is a story that gradually shifts from Bowen's usual light-hearted style to something grim and terrifying - all of this playing against a menacing firestorm that threatens to spill all over the Wolf Mountains.

There is always a grim side to Bowen's detailed stories of rural Montana life, where attitude plays stronger than ethnic background. But usually the interplay between Du Pre, his woman Madelaine, and the countless, gemlike characters that people the stories keeps the reader smiling, fascinated by the strange array of the Metis dialect and the ever-present sense of music that it portends. But Ash Child sneaks up on you. At first the crimes seem like they are little more than troublemaking gone awry, and then, suddenly, you sense a dark intelligence using the worst form of murder weapon.

An interesting development in this story is the extensive involvement of Madelaine, whose usually role is as a contrast to Du Pre. This time Benetse, a zany old medicine man, maneuvers her into the position of spiritual investigator and hunter. Du Pre conflicted by his love for her and his undeniably macho mental role barely manages to cope with this. But Madelaine proves every bit as tough as her companion, and it is really she that opens the gates to hell, with Du Pre in tow.

My only criticism of the novel is that the final arc turns like the barb on a fishhook - sudden and deadly sharp. You think you're heading in one direction and suddenly you are elsewhere. Bowen intentionally keeps his novels short and pithy, but this time I wish there had been more of a transition. Even so, this is a brilliant story, full of the things that make the author's idiosyncratic work catch and compel the reader.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and rewarding novel July 13 2002
By booksforabuck - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Wolf Mountain is dry and the fires are starting. It will be a fire of the century, Gabriel Du Pre knows. But when the fires actually start, there is more than simply nature. Du Pre may live in the boonies of Montana, but even the most remote part of America isn't immune to murder, arson, or drugs. When an old woman is murdered, Du Pre is thrust into a strange world where no one is exactly as they appear, but where the danger is incredibly real.
Author Peter Bowen uses a powerful and distinctive voice to describe the lives of the Metis Indians and the ranchers who survive in the harsh lands of Montana. Du Pre relies on a combination of bull-headed bravery, investigating, and Native American magic to learn the truth. In Bowen's novels, the magic is real, and the result is often close to magic itself.
With its wealth of intriguing characters and its vivid descriptions of the land and people of Montana, ASH CHILD is a fine and compelling novel. I would have liked to see a stronger connection between the drug angle and the rest of the mystery, but it is hard to quibble with Bowen's work.
5.0 out of 5 stars Bowen is at his best in this tale. March 7 2014
By Patricia L. Claussen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Bowen is at his best in this tale. Murder, drugs and a good picture of Montana cowboy country plus a raging mountain forest fire and then add a psychopath on the loose. Couldn't put it down.
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read Nov. 24 2013
By Kevin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I love these books, I live in them while I'm reading. I give only 4 stars because the plots are seldom tight, but the characters are memorable, and I intend to read them all.
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