A missing teen requires the special talents of Sean Stranahan—fishing guide, watercolorist, former boxer, and occasional private eye (Dead Man’s Fancy, 2014, etc.).
Failed author Max Gallagher, who’s renting a cabin in Montana’s Crazy Mountains in the hope of writing a comeback novel, has trouble trying to get the chimney to draw. First a Santa Claus hat falls out, then he has to remove a crow’s nest, and finally he finds an eyeless female corpse stuck inside. When Sheriff Martha Ettinger brings her team to investigate, she’s not pleased to hear that Max is an acquaintance of her estranged lover Sean Stranahan. But, professional down to her booted feet, Martha’s determined to focus only on the dead girl. The medical examiner doesn’t see any signs of foul play, but he does note that the victim was five months pregnant—and five months is how long Cinderella, the beautiful teenage daughter of former rodeo star Loretta Huntington, has been missing. Loretta’s husband is wrapped up in his work as a consultant for a TV Western, and the grieving mother, who’s already lost two children, is barely holding herself together. When she can no longer deny that the girl in the chimney is her daughter, she hires Stranahan to find out what happened. At first he’s uncertain whether Cinderella planned to use the cabin as the Mile and a Half High Club, the scene of prearranged and anonymous assignations, or whether she’d run away from trouble at home and used the cabin as refuge. The more Stranahan tries to make sense of clues as disparate as a local Bigfoot, an old powder horn, and a clown tattoo, the more intricate the puzzle grows, until he discovers an astonishing work of art that he hopes will bring peace to the tortured Loretta.
Stranahan’s fourth case blends humor with heartbreak, all flavors of eccentricity with a struggle for normalcy, and a natural backdrop that can make even the most powerful humans and their deeds look small.