From veteran novelist and longtime Montanan Rowland (Arbuckle, 2018, etc.), a new novel that looks at first like a murder mystery...but turns out to be mostly a dark-toned but affectionate pastoral about ranch life in rugged 1968 Montana.
Carl Logan is a former city schoolteacher who's just moved his family—much to his wife's chagrin—to Paradise Valley, a tiny ranching town where he's been hired as manager of the spread owned by wealthy outsider Peter Kenwood. Carl is both a newcomer and, many believe, a kind of usurper, since Kenwood has bypassed longtime hand Lester Ruth to hire Carl. So when rival rancher Tom Butcher, a bon vivant bachelor with a reputation as a ladykiller who is in some ways both the town's most popular and most despised person, is found beaten to death with a baseball bat, suspicion falls first and most heavily on Carl. The mystery of who's offed Tom and why becomes the engine of the novel but not its subject or reason for being: This is a love letter to the small-town, rough-and-tumble, fisticuff-heavy ranch life of 50 years ago. Rowland's interest in the murder plot is mainly as a way to explore a subject that cozy mysteries generally gloss over: How do you live in a community where neighbors have no choice but to stay in close contact, to trust and rely upon each other, when you know that one of those neighbors must be a killer who's hiding in plain sight? In straight-ahead, unfussy prose, Rowland keeps the novel humming along. The mystery fizzles a bit in the end, but by then the reader will know that's not where this book's heart is.
A quick-moving, plainspoken, mostly charming exploration of the hardscrabble life of the livestock rancher of old.