Murder, With Fly-Fishing

The Gray Ghost MurdersThe Gray Ghost Murders by Keith McCafferty

Take a little C.J. Box, stir in a pinch of Craig Johnson and add a big handful of Norman Maclean and you’ll come close to describing this second novel in Keith McCafferty’s fly-fishing series. Don’t cringe, it isn’t only about fly-fishing, hero Seth Stranahan is also a PI working a case with the Bridger sheriff’s department, as well a burglary case for the Madison River Liars and Fly Tiers Club. He’s also a painter finishing a series of oils for a rich fellow fisherman’s mansion, and a recent Montana immigrant who has totally fallen in love with the state. McCafferty’s come up with a great maybe-murder/maybe-not plot that I won’t spoil, and there is some fun dialogue

“What do you think you’re doing?” It was [Sheriff] Ettinger, standing impatiently at the edge of the bench, a half-eaten elk meatloaf sandwich in her hand.

“Being thorough.”

“Be thorough faster.”

some great characterizations

Cowboy head to toe but not out of a catalog, the real thing, sweat-stained Stetson cracked in the crown crease, chambray workshirt with two pearl snaps missing, Levi’s bought hard and blue-black and never washed. A belt buckle embossed with a bucking bronc winked in the sunlight that had opened a hole in the rain clouds. Cummings smelled of sweat and horseflesh.

some enjoyable fly-fishing based philosophy

For years, Sean Stranahan had told anyone who cared to ask that the reason he went fishing was to think. On the river, thoughts didn’t pile on top of each other the way they tended to on land. Rather, his mind became elastic, adapting itself to the creative demands of catching trout. Sean would never make an important decision without turning it over first with a fly rod in his hands.

and some throwaway descriptive passages that put you right there in the Montana mountains

Along the fisherman’s path, Sean resisted the urge to drink in the beauty of the afternoon, nodding off into purple blues on the ridges and deep greens in the valley, and kept his eyes on the ground.

My one caveat is that his women characters are a little silly. Must the sheriff really agonize over the gorgeousness of all the women Sean dates who aren’t her? Does Katie the dog handler really have to be so clumsy with her come-ons? Does his current girlfriend really have to be a topless barista slash veterinary student who loves cats and dogs?

Other than that, highly recommended, and even if it weren’t, worth reading for Sam’s story about Peachy Morris, the cougar and the surfing professor all by itself. I would have reproduced it here except it’s too long. Actually, it’s exactly long enough. I’ll just go back and reread it instead.

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