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The Royal Wulff Murders by Keith McCafferty – Murders and fly-fishing

January 22, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Royal Wulff Murders by Keith MacCafferty (2012). French title: Meurtres sur la Madison. Translated by Janique Jouin-De Laurens.

The Royal Wulff Murders by Keith MacCafferty is a book published by Gallmeister in France and with a sticker that says that Craig Johnson found it marvelously entertaining. How could I resist?

The book opens with Rainbow Sam, a fly-fishing guide, whose client fishes a dead body instead of trout. The client generously throws up at the sight and Sam contacts the sheriff. We’re in the small town of Bridger, a fishing community on the Madison river, in Montana. The sheriff is a woman, Martha Ettinger. With her second-in-command Walt, their first task will be to identify the victim and answer the other question: is it an accident or a murder?

Meanwhile, Sean Stranahan, ex PI from Boston and current fly-fisherman/painter is hired by a singer, Vareda Lafayette, to follow her father’s footsteps on the Madison river. Her father has died a year before, loved travelling from New Orleans to Bridger for fly-fishing. He had marked the trout he had taken and Vareda would like Sean to fish them back, to honor her father. (Fishermen are weird, I know but so are bookworms). Soon Sean realizes that Vareda’s problems are more complicated that he imagined, that her brother who lives in the area is missing. Against his will, he will investigate his disappearance.

Martha and Sean follow their leads and eventually understand that their investigations overlap and join their forces. They will dive into the mudded waters of fly-fishing and its lucrative business. (and not, it’s not farfetched)

Keith MacCafferty sounds like a combination of William G Tapply and Craig Johnson. The law representatives are named Martha and Walt, probably a friendly allusion to Craig Johnson. Indeed, Johnson’s main character is named Walt Longmire and his late wife was named Martha. Sean Stranahan reminded me of Stoney Calhoun, Tapply’s fishing guide/detective.

I went to see Craig Johnson at a meeting in a bookstore and he said that sheriffs in Wyoming and Montana are often big guys because the staff of the police force is small, the territory is huge and they often are alone on a spot and can’t count on a quick backup if things go awry. They tend to be muscular and armed. So, deciding on a female sheriff in Montana for a main character is kind of daring.

I liked Martha, her hidden insecurities while she keeps up appearances and leads her investigation like a pro. Like Longmire, she has an Indian friend who helps her in her job. At the same event I mentioned before, Craig Johnson said that books set in Wyoming and Montana that have no Indian characters lack authenticity: there are several reservations in these States and Indians are part of the local population.

The other main character is Sean. He’s divorced, still wears the scars of his failed marriage and left Boston and his past behind to start afresh in Montana. He paints fishing scenes and Montana landscapes to make a living and put a PI sign on his door to differentiate himself from other newcomers. He never thought that someone would take it seriously and hire him, especially since he’s not licensed in Montana.

The Royal Wulf Murders is a lovely combination of beautiful landscapes, loveable characters and a well-oiled plot. I learnt new details about fly-fishing and could test whether I had assimilated some of John Gierach’s lessons from Sex, Death and Fly-Fishing. I want to know Sean and Martha better and see where their informal collaboration will lead them. The plot builds up slowly, probably because MacCafferty settles his characters for the upcoming series but the last third of the book accelerates and takes us to territories I had not anticipated.

  1. January 24, 2020 at 3:09 pm

    So this is a different series of fly fishing related crime novels? I had no idea this was a genre. It does sound good though. How does it compare to Tapply? And Johnson for that matter.

    If you haven’t already it does feel like you’re due a holiday in Wyoming/Montana.


    • January 25, 2020 at 5:35 pm

      It is a different series. Apparently writers for fishing magazines also enjoy writing crime fiction around fishing. (Both Tapply and MacCafferty were such writers)

      I liked the Tapply series better because I liked the character and his dog better. It’s totally subjective.

      Craig Johnson is definitely better.
      – There’s no fishing in his books, except in passing. You won’t find descriptions of flies, waders or whatever.
      – His books explore a theme through the mystery. For example, the first one explores the idea of justice.
      – There’s a very interesting take on Cheyenne culture and that’s a plus for me because I’m always curious and willing to learn something new.
      – And he has a killer sense of humor.

      So, if you want to start one new series, go for the Longmire one.

      Re-holiday in Wyoming and Montana : that’s the plan 🙂


  2. January 26, 2020 at 6:40 pm

    This does sound like it has a lot to recommend it even when I know nothing about fishing! The landscape descriptions sound lovely and the characters really well drawn.


    • January 26, 2020 at 6:49 pm

      We have a word in French that doesn’t have an exact equivalent in English, I think. It’s “dépaysant”. It’s a way to say different and exotic and “out-of-your-usual-scenery”. It’s used for places. When you say that your trip was dépaysant, it means that it was very different from your usual life.
      These books are dépaysant for me, and that’s why I like them and find them relaxing. They take me away from my everyday life; that’s the attraction of Nature Writing for me.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Vishy
        January 28, 2020 at 4:33 pm

        Dépaysant – I like that 🙂


  3. Vishy
    January 28, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    Wonderful review, Emma! Can’t believe that there is a third series of murder mysteries based on fly-fishing! So cool!


    • February 1, 2020 at 4:46 pm

      Hi Vishy. At least, there are two. The Gierach is more a collection of essays about his life as a fisherman.
      The Longmire series isn’t about fly-fishing by it’s set in Wyoming.


      • Vishy
        February 1, 2020 at 7:11 pm

        Sounds wonderful, Emma! I want to read the Gierach! Love essay collections! Thanks for telling me about this 🙂


        • February 1, 2020 at 7:14 pm

          I’d love to read your thoughts about the Gierach and all the fly-fishing details!


          • Vishy
            February 1, 2020 at 7:31 pm

            Looking forward to reading it 🙂


  4. February 1, 2020 at 12:27 am

    You’re going to be picking up a fishing rod next.


    • February 1, 2020 at 3:37 pm

      Oh no, I’m not up for that. I’ve read the stories I’m not cut out for fly fishing 😊


  1. October 23, 2021 at 6:55 pm

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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