Tuesday, May 5, 2015

BITTER CREEK by Peter Bowen

Peter Bowen’s Bitter Creek has a plot like shifting quicksand. About the time you think you have a handle on the backstory, things change.

Bitter Creek also has the usual wonderful characters--now-retired brand inspector Gabriel Du Pré, Madelene, the old Métis prophet Benetsee, Du Pré’s rich friend Bart, Booger Tom, Father Van Den Heuvel, Susan, and a large group of others.

The story takes place during the second Iraq war. Madelene’s son Chappie, a returned soldier, is a hopeless alcoholic fighting PTSD.

Du Pré takes Chappie to Benetsee’s sweat lodge. While there, they hear the voices of a group of long-unburied dead.

In 1910, the U.S. army drove a small remnant of Montana Métis into Canada, herding them like cattle. In the process, they killed all but one small child at a place named Bitter Creek.

 The Métis are a mix of French voyagers and Native Americans, aboriginal plains Indians. They came to Montana from Canada. Du Pré is a well-known Métis fiddler. He is one of those who preserves the songs of his people.

Du Pré, Chappie, and their group (including two army buddies) set out to find the bones, bury them with respect, and set the voices at rest.

They begin by trying to find the child (who reportedly is now well over 100).

Before the story is over, someone kills two Du Pré allies, and, as I said in the beginning, things take unexpected turns.

I found this to be one of the best of Peter Bowen’s Gabriel Du Pré stories. It is at least as good as the first book in the series, Coyote Wind.

Peter Bowen’s terse style makes the story better. Also, Bowen fills the book with humor.

Before Bitter Creek is over Du Pré learns a new song (“Bitter Creek”), and Chappie finds both pain and salvation.

One warning: Extremely conservative people may find the book offensive. Du Pré and his friends are patriots. Some of them are faithful, practicing Catholics. But these folks have strong opinions.

Two examples--

“This [funeral with fancy vestments] is the sort of thing the bishop should be doing,” said Father Van Den Heuvel.

“The bishop, the rest of them off molesting children,” said Madelaine.


“It’s a good thing that bat-eared nitwit [GW Bush] wasn’t president when Pearl Harbor happened,” said Susan. “He’d have invaded China ...”

Peter Bowen’s Bitter Creek is a special book.

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