The Royal Wulff Murders: A Novel is a well-written story with great descriptions and sense of place. The mystery involves fly fishing, and for outdoor enthusiasts, there's a lot here to enjoy.From Publisher:
"When a fishing guide reels in the body of a young man on the Madison, the Holy Grail of Montana trout rivers, Sheriff Martha Ettinger suspects foul play. It's not just the stick jammed into the man's eye that draws her attention; it's the Royal Wulff trout fly stuck in his bloated lower lip. Following her instincts, Ettinger soon finds herself crossing paths with Montana newcomer Sean Stranahan.
Fly fisher, painter, and has-been private detective, Stranahan left a failed marriage and lackluster career to drive to Montana, where he lives in an art studio decorated with fly-tying feathers and mouse droppings. With more luck catching fish than clients, Stranahan is completely captivated when Southern siren Velvet Lafayette walks into his life, intent on hiring his services to find her missing brother. The clues lead Stranahan and Ettinger back to Montana's Big Business: fly fishing. Where there's money, there's bound to be crime."
Through the course of this mystery, author Keith McCafferty (a name you might know if you read Field and Stream magazine) provides interesting facts on fly fishing and the whirling disease that infects trout in many Western waterways. He also has integrated details of tracking, and types of weapons—beyond rod and reel.
For me, the main protagonist, Sean Stranahan, could have been developed better. He often fades behind more dynamic characters. Perhaps that withdrawn/bland aspect is part of his character. Sheriff Martha Ettinger, however, is well developed, with personality coming through—strengths and weaknesses.
The character of Velvet LaFayette is too mysterious to be believable, and the fact that Sean becomes captivated by her seems to add to his blandness. I didn't find her as compelling as she is purported to be and read through her scenes wondering when I'd get back to the main story. Not that she isn't part of the main story. Velvet is the reason Sean became involved in the murder investigation, but she dominates more of the story than I thought necessary.
But then, I like mystery stories to have the mystery front-and-center. Although crime solving is a major part of The Royal Wulff Murders, overall it has too much Romance for me.
Other characters and their settings are dynamic and well presented, from fishing guide Sam, to tracker Harold Little Feather, and the rich summer fly-ins who populate the story and the Montana riverbanks.
There is a long monologue that ends the mystery. I had felt the story got overly complex at times, and here it seems as if McCafferty was writing his way out of corners. Then there are the wrap-ups, which, if the romances hadn't been so prominent, wouldn't have been needed.
Throughout, McCafferty presents very nice use of language that make the scenes spring to life, and the character of the Treasure State—Montana—come to the fore. I'm a Montanan. It rings true.
A FOUR star title, with reservations caused by my personal preferences. A good outdoors mystery.