Saturday, September 06, 2008

REVIEW: Cruzatte and Maria

Title: Cruzatte and Maria
Author: Peter Bowen
ISBN: 0312262531
Protagonist: Gabriel Du Pré, Métis fiddler par excellence
Setting: present-day Montana along the Missouri River
Series: #8
Rating: A

First Line: Du Pré limped into the Toussaint Saloon.

Strong, willful Gabriel Du Pré is putty in the hands of even stronger, more willful women. That's how he finds himself working as a consultant for a film crew making a movie about Lewis and Clark; his daughter Maria's boyfriend is the producer. However, when the Hollywood starlet hired to portray Sacajawea can't stand the (to her) primitive conditions, Maria finds herself with the role. Just as Du Pré starts trying to find ways to prevent the resident Hollywood hunk from bringing out his guitar and joining in Du Pré's sessions, an FBI agent gets in contact with him. It seems the FBI knows what Du Pré is doing, and since he's in the area, would he mind checking into the unexplained murders of nine people who'd last been seen boating on that stretch of the Missouri River? Du Pré reluctantly agrees. In his spare time when he's not consulting, fiddling and looking for murderers, he somehow manages to find something that sets academia--and the US government--on fire. What he does with it will make all contrary souls like me laugh and applaud.

Some folks complain that there's not a whole lot of plot to Bowen's Du Pré novels, or a whole lot of mystery for that matter. The reply that pops first into my mind is rather blunt: who the hell cares? Normally when I read the latest edition of the Du Pré Daily News, I hear his fiddle clearly in my mind. While reading Cruzatte and Maria, I didn't. Instead I was in a pirogue with Du Pré paddling down the Missouri River. Like a handhewn pirogue, this book followed the currents of the river. Good use of the paddle took us to logjams of extraordinary characters, to the quicksand of history, to the shallows of the here and now. Grabbing the sides of the pirogue as we shot through some rapids, I felt the heat of the Montana sun on my shoulders and the vastness of the Montana sky stretch over my head. In many of Bowen's novels there is a clash between the "natives" and the "outsiders". Cruzatte and Maria is no exception. When fiercely independent natives live in an area coveted by outsiders with more money than sense, these clashes are inevitable. Sometimes they can be funny, sometimes they can be violent, but ultimately these clashes are always tragic. It is Bowen's strength that he can write about all of this so vividly, so naturally, in books that don't seem to have a whole lot of plot.

If you can't tell by my reviews, this is one series that I wish I could get all mystery lovers to try just once. Bowen is an unsung treasure who deserves more recognition.

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