Sheriff Bo Tully of Blight County, Idaho is back for more adventures in “The Double-Jack Murders” by New York Times bestselling Spokane author and humorist Patrick F. McManus.
In the third installment in the popular outdoor writer’s mystery series, Tully is trying to solve a missing person case while being pursued by a crazy mountain man named Lucas Kincaid. Kincaid escaped from prison after only serving two months of a life sentence and has vowed to get revenge on Tully for arresting him. Tully doesn’t seem to be very concerned about Kincaid (even though he has murdered at least two people since his escape) but he has plans in place to protect his friends and loved ones and he is actually using himself as bait to lure Kincaid out of hiding.
After ordering Deputy Brian Pugh to help him track Kincaid, Tully sets off with his friend Dave (an expert tracker and martial artist) and his roguish father Pap to find out what really happened to his friend Agatha’s father and a young man who was prospecting for gold with him in 1927. Along the way, Bo receives a crash course in Idaho mining history from Pap, learns some useful things about the Spanish-American War and uncovers some of a wealthy local family’s old secrets.
Eventually, both Kincaid and the cold case are dealt with to most people’s satisfaction. The plot rambles in a seemingly casual manner that fits the laid-back personality of Sheriff Tully. It is impressive to watch McManus the storyteller in action as he takes scenes that seem to be in the book mostly because they’re kind of funny and then eventually reveals that he had been carefully dropping clues to the mysteries. When Tully puts all the pieces together, it becomes clear that both the novel and its protagonist are like icebergs. Surface appearances barely hint at hidden depths.
“The Double-Jack Murders” is something of an odd hybrid. The wry tone and quirky characters will appeal to fans of McManus’s humor writing. Bo and his companions get themselves into trouble out in the woods a few times in ways that will feel very familiar to people who love books such as “Never Sniff a Gift Fish.” But at the same time some incredibly dark undercurrents undermine the humor in a way that is probably appropriate, considering that the story also involves at least five people being killed.
McManus grew up in Idaho, and it shows in the way he perfectly captures the flavor of the Idaho panhandle. His descriptions of things such as hunting for quail and “green” logging practices should make Idahoan readers feel like they’re in good hands. Through many subtle details, he captures how the locals feel about nature, each other, taxes and the law in general.
The citizens of Blight County might seem like harmless eccentrics who simply enjoy hunting and being close to the land, but there is a casual disregard for the law that Tully often refers to as “The Blight Way.” Sometimes, people get murdered and their bodies disappear because that makes more sense than making an arrest. Sometimes, “The Blight Way” results in half a town’s population working for a local marijuana operation or people being a little too accepting of a corrupt local judge. In spite of all this, most Blight County residents seem like good folks even though they act sort of like outlaws from the Old West.
Anyone who has spent much time in northern Idaho has probably met real people who could be described this way. The mixture of obvious affection and gentle mockery McManus uses to describe his characters fits pretty well with how a lot of those people see themselves and their neighbors. Anyone from Spokane who has ever spent any time north of Sandpoint will love the way McManus celebrates those small town folks while also finding some new reasons to be glad they live in the city.
“The Double-Jack Murders” is available from Spokane area retailers and the Spokane County Library District.