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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.
*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
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