Published in 1994, this is the novel that introduced Gabriel Du Pre, a fiddle player, brand inspector and part-time deputy sheriff who lives in the fictional town of Toussaint on the eastern plains of Montana. Du Pre is somewhere in his middle forties when we first meet him, a widower with two daughters and a rapidly growing number of grandchildren. Every once in a while, he goes to church and confesses that he's still living in sin with his girlfriend, Madeline, whose husband abandoned her three years earlier. "Good," says the local parish priest before giving Du Pre absolution. Say a "couple Hail Marys. The words are pretty, you'll like them."
Du Pres is a Metis, descended from the French fur trappers who married Native American women in Canada in the nineteenth century. Some Metis later moved south into Montana and when another character asks him early on what sort of an Indian he is, Du Pre says that, fortunately, he's one with just enough French in him that the anthropologists leave him alone.
As the book opens, a ranch hand calls the sheriff's office to report that he's come across a plane wreck high in the Wolf mountains. The sheriff asks Du Pre to check it out and, reluctantly, Du Pre agrees. It turns out that the wreck is over thirty years old. There are a couple of skeletons lying near the wreck, but there's also a spare skull and a few other bones that don't seem to belong with the wreckage.
The discovery sets off an investigation with significant ramifications for a lot of people, and it's up to Du Pre to get it all sorted out, if and when he can, in and around looking at cows' asses, as he puts it, ensuring that their brands are in order before they are shipped off to market. Du Pre is surrounded by a great cast of characters who will endure through most of the long-running series, and Bowen expertly puts them all in a beautifully-rendered setting.
Gabriel Du Pre is one of the most unique characters in all of crime fiction, and the novels in this series are uniformly very good. If you're a fan of crime fiction and haven't tripped to them yet, do yourself a favor and find them. If you can, it's best to read this series in order to follow the development of the characters, all of whom have rich, full lives that continue to evolve as the series progresses.