Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ash Child by Peter Bowen

Title: Ash Child
Author: Peter Bowen
ISBN: 0312288506, St. Martin's Minotaur, 2002
Genre: Amateur Sleuth, #9 Gabriel Du Pré mystery
Rating: B

First Line: Du Pré was pissed off.

This is one of my very favorite mystery series. I'd like for it to be one of yours, too, but in order for that to happen, you'll have to check any political correctness you may have at the door before you walk into the Toussaint Saloon to meet with characters that are so fully fleshed you'd swear they were alive. They are also farmers and ranchers, and their language may be a tad saltier than you're used to.

Gabriel Du Pré is a Métis Indian and occasional cattle brand inspector in the wilds of Montana. Nowadays he helps out the local sheriff when he isn't playing some of the best fiddle music you've ever heard in your life. Du Pré is probably more than a little bit different from the characters you're used to reading about:

"I checked you out," said Vook. "Du Pré is a good guy, they say, real good guy, runs on Bull Durham and bourbon and he pisses on the little laws but he's good about the big ones."

Maddy Collins was an old lady who lived on the edge of Toussaint and pretty much kept herself to herself, but everyone in town is upset when her body is found inside her small house. Someone had bashed in her head. Who on earth would want to do something like that to a person who'd never caused harm to another soul? Maddy's death doesn't set well with Du Pré, and he starts looking for the murderer. When he and Madelaine, the lady in his life, find out that drugs might have something to do with the woman's death, they ask an expert what they should be looking for. The expert gives them some things to look for, and--since they live in a small town--they know exactly who's involved.

An old woman's death, drug trafficking in a small Montana town...and then the Wolf Mountains start to burn. Everything Du Pré holds dear, including his own life, is at risk.

Peter Bowen is a master craftsman. The Métis speech patterns, at first strange to the ear, become more familiar with each book until they're completely natural. The independent spirit of all the people living in and around this small town feels familiar. When faced with a problem, they prefer to deal with it themselves. No agencies or government bureaucrats for the people of Toussaint. Even Du Pré's fiddle playing has a life of its own. Bowen's prose are lean and totally evocative of the place and the people of which he writes. There's not an unnecessary scene or phrase to be found.

If you'd like to spend a couple of hours with some real characters taking care of business, if you'd like to get a feel for the real West, you can't go wrong with a Gabriel Du Pré mystery by Peter Bowen.


  1. "Peter Bowen is a master craftsman."

    I wonder, then, how I've missed him for ten years (since this is #9 you're reviewing).

    The same thing happened with Denise Mina, Donna Leon, and Magdalen Nabb. All excellent writers with series under their belts, and I found them only by others' reviews and recommendations.

    It must have something to do with lack of publisher promotion (or even caring), which is too bad for all of us looking for good police procedurals and mysteries.

    So now I have to search out #1 in the series because I'm extremely anal about reading series in order.

    Thanks for the review, Cathy.

  2. I'd add this series to my pile. The only thing is, I don't like Westerns ... But then again, you say this is one of your very favorite mystery series. It's dilemma time for me!

  3. Charlie--Bowen's series is not for the PC crowd or for those who don't do well reading accents, which are probably two reasons why the series was never really promoted. The Métis speech was awkward to read for a few pages, but then I became familiar with the cadence...almost like James Lee Burke and the Cajuns. If you have trouble finding that first book, let me know. I have a paperback edition that has the first two books of the series, and I'd be more than happy to send it to you!

    Belle--No one ever rides off into the sunset or anything, but it's definitely a series set in the West and populated by fiercely independent Westerners. I wouldn't blame you if you passed on this one!

  4. Sounds like a great series. I can check political correctness at the door to enjoy a good book.

  5. Kathy--That's a good thing to know!


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