After an absence of eight years, Peter Bowen returns with the fourteenth installment of his excellent series featuring Gabriel Du Pre, a Metis brand inspector, fiddle player and investigator who lives in the fictional town of Toussaint, Montana.
As the book opens, two severely wounded veterans of the Iraq war meet in Toussaint. One is Chappie Plaquemines, the son of Du Pre’s long-time significant other, Madeline. The other is John Patchen, who served under Chappie, and who is trying to persuade him to accept the Navy Cross. In the process of trying to sober Chappie up long enough so that Patchen can make the argument, the two men go to a sweat lodge owned by a mysterious and elusive old medicine man.
In the sweat lodge, the two hear mysterious voices hinting at a massacre of a number of Metis people in the early Twentieth Century by U.S. Army soldiers and a handful of local citizens. (The Metis are descendants of the unions of Native American women and Europeans, principally French fur traders, that occurred along what is now the U.S.-Canadian border in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries. The Metis have a unique culture and one of the pleasures of these books is the way in which the author immerses the characters and the reader in this culture.)
Chappie, Patchen and Du Pre launch an investigation of this incident which is little known and which has been largely covered up by the descendants of the people involve in perpetrating the crime. Inevitably, of course, a lot of feathers will be ruffled in the process and a fair amount of violence will ensue. The three men remain undaunted by the threats directed against them, however, and are determined to discover the truth about this century-old mystery.
It’s an excellent tale, made all the more enjoyable by the great cast of characters that Bowen has assembled through the years. Even in the face of the grim story that unfolds here, there’s a lot of wry humor, and this is a book that will appeal to readers who have enjoyed the novels of people like Tony Hillerman and Craig Johnson. If you haven’t run across this series before, it’s definitely worth looking for; for old friends of the series, it’s great to finally have Du Pre and the rest of these characters back. One closes the book hoping that it will not be another eight years before we see them again.