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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Monday, August 31

Keith McCafferty

I’m reading the fourth book in the Sean Stranahan series by Keith McCafferty, Crazy Mountain Kiss. I’ll be sad when I finish this one, in that it’s the last he’s written so far. I’m hoping he’ll continue this series about his crazy cast of Montana characters. I’ve grown very fond of them and I’d miss them if these four books were the only ones. I keep finding writers I’ve never read, so I guess I’ll never run out of good books. I can now see why McCafferty and C. J. Box are friends. Both live in wild spots, Wyoming and Montana; both use settings in mountain wilderness; both specialize in the wildlife of those areas. Even though both write thriller/mysteries, the tone of the two writers is somewhat different, Box with his game warden, Joe Pickett, and McCafferty with his fishing guide/watercolor artist/part-time private detective, Sean Stranahan. Box’s stories are much darker than McCafferty’s, with little or no humor, whereas McCafferty’s are rich with the comic banter among his cast of characters. On more than one occasion, Sheriff Martha Ettinger says of Sean Stranahan, “This is what I mean when I tell people you manage to step into shit even if there’s only one horse in the pasture.” Stranahan describes one of the local denizens, “Phil Halverson, an unshaven logger who had one of those pinched faces typically associated with cousin kissing and hog calling, and whose deep-set eyes were as black as a coon’s under his grungy hat with a McCulloch Chain Saw logo. Everybody called him Punxsutawney Phil, after the famous groundhog, because he began every conversation by telling you whether he’d seen his shadow that morning. If he had, then it was going to be a bad day. With the town of Bridger being on the east or sunny side of the Continental Divide, Phil had a lot of bad days.” McCafferty’s characters are all characters in one Montana way or another, some funny, some sad, but all really memorable.

I read in an interview on McCafferty’s blog what he had to say about the act of writing novels, and I was impressed: “I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, that writing a novel is like setting sail for a distant land. You can see as far as the horizon, and that will get you a few chapters in, and at a certain point you’ll smell land or a shorebird will perch on your mast, and you’ll be able to see the end and work toward it with a sense of excitement — say over the novel’s last four chapters. It’s those 250 or so pages in between when you’re lost at sea, sharks circling, and no stars to take a bearing, that separate those who wish to write novels from those who actually do.”

Here are a few more examples of his writing that impresses me: “There are many ways of feeling alone. There is the squeezed chest loneliness of walking down a dark alleyway, and there is the self-reliant isolation of fishing a midnight river in wilderness. There is that delicious hollow feeling of standing alone in a slumbering city, waiting for the light to change on the metropolitan avenue shining under the street lamps after the rain, secure in the knowledge that the woman whose bed you have left is dreaming about you and it is two against the world—a loneliness built for two. And then there is the devastation of being left by someone you love.” (pp. 82-83, The Royal Wulff Murders)

“Stranahan idled down the drive with the windows open. When the great grey hooted, he stopped and shut the engine off. The voice echoed into silence, leaving the undertone of the current. The owl was the sonorous heartbeat of the night, the river song its breath, and these sounds resonated in Stranahan’s chest long after he had retired to the futon in his studio, as the bass notes of nature do with those who sleep alone.” (p. 278, The Royal Wulff Murders)

“It gets lonely when someone close to you starts pulling away. It’s like living with a shadow.” (p. 203, Dead Man’s Fancy)

You could do far worse than to find the four Sean Stranahan mysteries and read them. I think you’ll be as impressed as I am.
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