Thursday, September 8, 2016

Jenny Siler Tells a gritty, Riveting Tale Set Against the Backdrop of a Brutal Montana Winter

Meg Gardner is in her middle thirties and recently released from prison in New Mexico where she served time for stabbing her boyfriend. Now free, she returns home to Missoula, Montana, and takes a job as a repo woman for GMAC. During a bitterly cold Christmas season, she's told to repossess the Jeep belonging to a pilot named Clayton Bennett. She arrives at the fleabag motel where Bennett is in residence only to discover that he had just been knifed to death. The cops are swarming all over the place but, not to be deterred, Meg locates the victim's Jeep and drives off with it. On arriving home en route to turning in the Jeep, Meg notices that Bennett has left his briefcase in the backseat.

Well, crap.

Any reader of crime fiction understands that when a guy's just been murdered and his briefcase turns up in the backseat of the car you're driving, you're probably all of a sudden in deep, deep trouble, and such is the case here. Practically before she can draw a breath, a vicious woman and a couple of Russian gangsters are at Meg's door, demanding the briefcase. She surrenders it, but whatever the bad guys and girl are looking for isn't in it. They naturally assume that Meg has removed it and demand it back.

This all turns out to be a very complicated situation which seems to turn on the fact that the murdered Mr. Bennett had years earlier crashed a plane into the Montana wilderness in the dead of winter. Bennett miraculously survived and had spent the bulk of his time in the intervening years attempting to find the crash site and the remains of his plane. Meg has no idea what might have been in the plane, but an awful lot of nasty people are interested in finding out.

Meg Gardner is certainly not Miss Marple or anyone like her. She's her own woman, a hard-drinking loner with a very complicated family background, and she doesn't take crap from anyone. In order to survive, she's got to dig her way down to the bottom of this sordid mess and it won't be easy or pretty. This is a dark, gritty novel, reminiscent of James Crumley, another Missoula author. Siler writes beautifully and is particularly adept at conveying the dark underside of this small university town and the brutal weather that can assault it during the winter. Readers will want to bundle up; it's goddamn cold out there in the still-wild West.

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