Harry’s Book Review: The Royal Wulff Murders

Author: Keith McCafferty
Copyright Date: February 2012
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0-670-02326-4

Audio, e-book or foreign translation avail? Yes–Kindle
Suitable for children? No, and probably not for the ladies either.

When I received my stack of fiction books to review for SurvivalBlog, the novel The Royal Wulff Murders caught my eye right away.  From the description of the murder victim and of Sean Stranahan’s studio I knew this book would have an element of humor worked into the mystery.  In fact, given the author’s day job (Survival Editor of Field & Stream) and the setting for the novel I seriously wondered if there might not be a cameo appearance by a Patrick F. McManus’ character such as Sheriff Bo Tully.  In the end, no such luck on that count, but the book was a fun read, and there was indeed a bit of humor worked in where possible.

One order of business which I should mention up front for the SurvivalBlog audience is that this book is not written to the same standards that are required for SurvivalBlog.  There is a bit of profanity and and quite a number of sexual references such as you could expect of a men’s locker room.  The profanity is primarily a matter of the character of Rainbow Sam Meslik, a colorful fishing guide, who is pretty rough around the edges.  Given he is the first character the reader meets might be a bit disturbing to some readers, but he is followed by some slightly more civilized characters and the language is toned down substantially with most of them.  The sexual references are fairly constant throughout the novel.  Pretty much any sexual analogy that can be made is made, all the way to considering a trout to be a phallic symbol.  Additionally, all the important characters are divorced and they all seem to be looking for some action with the opposite sex.  There are several times when they find it, however, McCafferty leaves the story with the closing of the door and then picks up again the next morning.  There is nothing graphic about any of these encounters, but it represents a lifestyle of lower standards than those of SurvivalBlog readers.

Introduction to characters and the build-up of the story line takes the first fifty pages.  After that the story moves along fairly quickly.  There are several characters for the reader to wonder about as suspects in the murder, as well as holes to fill in with regard to the motive.  The important elements of a good “whodunit” are all present.  The reader will not be disappointed in that regard. Keith McCafferty has done a great job of developing his characters for this story.

Most important is Sean Stranahan, a recently divorced, somewhat self-employed water color artist and one-time private investigator who lives out of his studio, marked ôBlue Ribbon Watercolors (and Private Investigations)ö and drives a battered Toyota Land Cruiser.  He seems to be better at fly-fishing than anything else, but he’s a good looking, likeable guy with a reasonable head on his shoulders.

Miss Velvet Lafayette, in the words of Doris Sizemore (you have to love McCafferty’s ability to come up with names for these characters) is T-R-O-U-B-L-E.  But nice trouble, and a mystery herself.  It takes Sean a while to find out that her real name is Vareda Beaudreux, and this a good time after she shows up at his studio to hire him to find the fish her father had caught in the Madison River precisely one year prior.  As with everything else about Miss Beaudreux, there’s more to the story than first meets the eye.

Martha Ettinger is the elected sheriff of Hyalite county.  Though tough and capable, she is continually pushing to prove herself to anyone who might doubt whether or not she is fit for her position on account of her gender.  Her teammates areb’t exactly the best and brightest, so she is playing make-up for them as well as for any perceived inadequacies on her own part.

Throughout the story the characters are plausible and consistent.  There are dramatic scenes and narrow escapes, mysterious shooters and figures who vanish into thin air.  Being that this is a mystery I don’t want to offer anything that would spoil it for the reader.  I will simply say that McCafferty does a good job of wrapping up all the loose ends nicely by the conclusion of the story.  The reader is neither left hanging, nor disappointed in the outcome.

The story also includes an education on the topic of “whirling disease”, a serious threat to the populations of rainbow trout.  According to a news release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from January 1997, the disease has wiped out an estimate 90% of the native population of wild rainbow trout in Montana’s upper Madison River.  It is possible for anglers to unwittingly spread the disease from one river to another.  This is a real issue and the education this book offers is worthwhile.

As a SurvivalBlog Fiction Book Review Editor I would be remiss if I did not mention this book’s value as survival fiction.  In that regard there is not a substantial amount of material present.  There are some details about tracking and some creative thinking for the sake of an escape, but that’s about it.  Perhaps of most value is simply an understanding of the setting and lifestyle of the American Redoubt.  The novel includes characters from three different cultures in that region:  the native American Indians, the year-round locals and the fair weather vacationing wealthy.  Understanding those and how they interact is an important matter for any who are considering life in the American Redoubt.

In short, The Royal Wulff Murders is a good read, but most definitely a “guy” book.