Patrick F. McManus’s beloved Sheriff Bo Tully has his hands full of elusive killers, eccentric backwoods characters, and irresistible women in this latest romp through the wilds of Blight County, Idaho.
Sheriff Bo Tully is the kind of western lawman who’s as good with the ladies as he is with his guns, and he never lets a death threat get in the way of a good barbecue. In this latest tale, Tully pursues a seventy-five-year-old missing persons case in which a pair of gold miners (a two-man drilling team known as a double-jack) mysteriously disappeared just as they hit the mother lode in a remote part of Blight County. Meanwhile, a second, more threatening case looms large. After serving only two months of a life sentence, a mentally unstable murderer named Kincaid—a nasty piece of work if there ever was one—manages to escape prison, setting his sights on killing the man who put him behind bars: one Sheriff Bo Tully.
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Patrick F. McManus is a renowned outdoor writer, humorist, and longtime columnist for Outdoor Life and Field & Stream. His most recent Sheriff Bo Tully mysteries are The Double-Jack Murders and Avalanche. He is the author of many other books, including such runaway New York Times bestsellers as The Grasshopper Trap, The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw, and Real Ponies Don't Go Oink! He lives in Spokane, Washington.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
IDAHO’S BLIGHT COUNTY sheriff, Bo Tully, scanned the ridge above his log house with binoculars. Nothing. Still too dark to make out anything beyond the tree line. He sighed, letting the binoculars dangle down his chest. Behind him on the porch, a little brown-and-white dog perched on a padded bar stool. The dog watched the sheriff intently, as if sensing some danger.
Tully glanced at the dog. “Still too dark to see anything, Clarence. You don’t have to worry, anyway. It’s me he’s after, not you.”
Clarence laid his chin down on his paws.
“Sure,” Tully said to him. “Now you relax!”
The sun began to rise over the ridge to the east. Soon its rays penetrated the tree line on the west ridge. Tully, wearing khakis, a red-and-blue tattersall shirt, a well-aged leather jacket, and his three-thousand-dollar alligator-skin cowboy boots, raised the binoculars and again scanned the woods. A deer stood there, gazing down at the meadow. A good sign. Tully could detect no movement among the trees. He turned at the sound of a motor. A pickup truck was coming down the road that wound across the meadow to his house. Deputy Brian Pugh pulled up and got out of the truck. He was wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, and a baseball cap. He was ridiculously trim and fit. His squinty eyes gave his face a hard look, softened a bit by the brown mustache that adorned his upper lip. A sheriff’s department badge was fastened to a pocket of his faded jeans.
The dog raised his head off his paws and growled.
“Shut up, Clarence,” Pugh said as he came up the porch steps. “I don’t like criminals growling at me.” He was referring to the little dog’s several arrests for hiding under cars and biting people on the ankles, usually a little old lady with an armload of packages. Clarence stopped growling.
Tully said, “You wouldn’t like a nice little dog, would you, Pugh?”
“No way. You were supposed to take Clarence out in the woods and knock him off. It’s not my fault you’re turning soft.”
“Don’t let it get around. Anyway, I’ve got a place all fixed up for you by the window in the studio upstairs. The rifle is sighted in at three hundred yards. That should give you a dead-on shot.”
“How can I be sure it’s Kincaid?”
“I’ve got a major spotting scope up there. At three hundred yards, you should be able to pick out the sex of a mosquito on his face. I suspect he may be wearing that stupid cap of his, the red-and-black-plaid one with the earflaps tied up on top. Besides, he’ll have a rifle with him. Shouldn’t be anybody up there with a rifle in June.”
“You want me to kill him, right?” Pugh said.
Tully gave him his crooked smile, a look known to the members of his department as The Look.
Tully got up and opened the door for Pugh. “As you know, I’ve got company coming today—lots of it. So don’t be poking the rifle barrel out the window. No point in making folks nervous. I fixed you up a comfortable chair and a good rest for the rifle. I guess you know your way up to the studio.”
“One other thing, Pugh.”
Pugh went inside just as a large flatbed truck came lumbering down the road. The bed of the truck was piled high with green picnic tables and benches. They had been collected from the city park by two of the sheriff’s deputies. The truck stopped three-quarters of the way down the road. Men got out and began unloading the tables and benches and arranging them about the meadow. They had done all this before. Shortly thereafter, pickup trucks began arriving with coolers stacked in the beds, the wild-game contents of his deputies’ freezers. This was the fourth annual Sheriff Bo Tully Empty the Freezer Day, one of the greatest political ploys ever committed in the entire history of Blight County, perhaps even in the history of Idaho or even of the United States. Tully couldn’t help but smile.
A couple hours later, cars began turning off the highway and parking in the upper part of the meadow. The occupants got out and came down the road carrying shovels and axes. They began digging holes in the sod of the meadow and lining the holes with rocks. Some of the men carried firewood and piled it next to the holes. Soon a dozen fires were burning in the meadow, an area Tully usually referred to as his yard. Iron racks were set up next to some of the fires, while others were fitted out with grills.
By noon, slabs of deer and elk ribs were roasting on the iron racks. Grills simmered with smoked elk sausages, elk and venison steaks, and various kinds of ground meat patties—deer, elk, bear, moose, antelope, sheep, porcupine, and enough mystery meats to cover most of the other wild animal species of Idaho. Tully had once tried what turned out to be a weasel patty and from then on had taken care to avoid all mystery meats.
One large bed of coals contained foil-wrapped packages of sliced potatoes and onions. Huge skillets of grouse gravy bubbled on two charcoal grills. Smoked kokanee salmon protruded in pink and golden patinas out of greasy boxes. Tables were laden with double rows of salads—potato, pasta, Jell-O, carrot-raisin, coleslaw, ambrosia, layered, sauerkraut, four-bean, and fruit. All of the salads had been provided by residents of Blight County, along with enough pies to cover the tops of several tables. Assorted local bands took turns furnishing the musical background.
By one o’clock Sheriff Bo Tully’s Freezer Day was in full gluttonous uproar. Local politicians and their spouses filled two tables that had been pushed together. They glanced enviously around at the partying crowd. Why hadn’t one of them thought of this scam?
Tully smiled. Absently scratching an itch through his shirt, he made a rough calculation of the number of votes represented in his yard and meadow, more than enough, he calculated, to guarantee his winning the next election hands-down, in the unlikely event he even had an opponent. The citizens of Blight County loved him, particularly the women. His close scrutiny of the crowd, however, had little to do with votes. His interest lay in one Lucas Kincaid, a nasty piece of work if ever there was one.
After serving only two months of a life sentence for murder and the cultivation and sale of marijuana, Kincaid had somehow escaped from a prison van hauling him to a hospital for a mental evaluation that Tully himself could have provided—crazy! Kincaid had left the two guards accompanying him dead, not because of any necessity related to his escape but, Tully mused, probably as an afterthought. The homicidal maniac had soon let it be known about the county that his first order of business was to kill the man who had put him in prison, one Sheriff Bo Tully. Some people are such sore losers.
Tully’s eyes fixed on a figure advancing toward him through the crowd. It was a very nice figure. The pretty blond woman wore a white dress distinguished mostly for its brevity, one of Tully’s favorite elements of female fashion. Coming up to the porch, she held out her hand. Tully leaped to his feet, grasped the hand, and gave it a little squeeze.
The young woman laughed. “You are even more handsome than my aunt let on,” she said, her blue eyes twinkling.
“How is that possible?” Tully said. “And exactly who is this extraordinarily perceptive aunt? More to the point, who are you, sweetheart?”
She tried to pull back her hand but Tully refused to let it go. In such cases, he didn’t believe in catch-and-release.
“Bunny Hunter,” she said, laughing. “My aunt is Agatha Wrenn. Actually, she is my great-aunt.”
Tully dropped her hand. “Agatha! Agatha sent her young and beautiful niece to see me? She must be in the grip of Alzheimer’s.”
“Not at all,” Bunny said, smiling as she unstuck a wisp of blond hair from her perspiring face. “Her mind is very sharp, even the more so for someone up in her eighties. In fact before sending me on this mission, she warned me extensively about you. So I am well prepared to fend off your charms, should you attempt to display any.”
“And here I thought I already had,” Tully said. “My supply of charms must be running low today. So what can I do for you, Miss Hunter? Or, rather, for your Aunt Agatha? She and her friend Bernice, by the way, just happen to be two of my most favorite people in the entire world.” He sat down on a porch step and motioned for Bunny to sit down beside him. “Please have a step, Miss Hunter.”
“Thanks,” she said, sitting down and demurely smoothing her dress, which reached almost halfway to her dimpled knees.
“Now tell me,” Tully said, “exactly what is the mission Aunt Agatha has sent you on?”
“I’m to persuade you to solve a mystery for her.”
Bunny laughed. “This one is really weird, though. I’m embarrassed even to bring it up but I promised I would. She wants you to find out if her father—my great-grandfather—was murdered and, if so, by whom.”
“I see. And what makes Agatha think her father may have been murdered?”
At that moment a pixyish little man strode by, his hat pulled down onto his ears, his hands thrust deep into his pockets.
“Petey!” Tully roared.
The little man jumped and spun around. “Bo! You scared me half to death!”
“I thought I had you in jail, Petey!”
“You did, Bo! I got sprung yesterday!”
“Oh? Well, in that case, have a good time. Stop by the pie table. My mom&rsquo...
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