Candy Moulton: Reading the West 6-6-11
China Bohannon is one of those characters you are unlikely to forget. This smart, sassy, feisty 21-year-old wannabe sleuth is determined to become a full partner in the Doyle and Howe detective agency operating in 1890s Spokane, Washington.
The prologue to the novel, written by Spokane resident C.K. Crigger and published by Oak Tree Press, involves an offshore log boom on Cougar Bay near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. When the men working the load of “densely packed 16-foot logs” discover the body of James Muldoon, co-owner of the Flag of America mine, you get a quick sense of the case Doyle and Howe will be involved in solving.
The opening scene gives you a glimpse of China, as she first primly watches a baseball game involving Gratton Doyle’s Northsiders versus Spokane Police Sergeant Lars Hansen’s Police Enforcers. In a dispute over an umpire’s call the game becomes a donnybrook and then China’s dog Nimble steals the baseball! With aplomb China saves her dog from a wild marksman by hiding the pooch between her feet beneath her long Victorian skirt.
At home later in the evening, a surprise visitor draws the attention of the principal investigators, China’s uncle Monk Howe, and Grat Doyle, his handsome co-partner, and the sleuthing begins. Although China’s job is to answer messages, send out bills, take care of the books, and handle other office work, truth is, she has a nose for trouble and for getting to the bottom of a case.
Set against the backdrop of the mining and logging camps in the Wallace, Idaho, area, this book has enough action to keep you turning the pages, plenty of mystery, just the hint of potential romance, and fully-drawn characters.
C.K. Crigger also really knows how to set a scene. When China is pitched off a boat into Lake Coeur d’Alene, she fortunately bumps into a free-floating log and grasps onto it for dear life. “The log had already floated past me,” she narrates, “Frantic, I paddled after it, my tired arms too weak to raise a splash. In the dark, something slapped across my face. Something long and slimy, like a heavy ribbon. Crying out, I brushed it away, only to be jerked forward as it wound around my wrist.”
“I discovered the slimy ribbon … was part of the log, being a strip of fiber beneath the bark, peeled back in the delimbing process. I fought against it until the realization struck me that the thing might well save my life.”
“Winding the plant filament several more times around my wrist, I came up snug against the log, a cedar, judging by the smell, 3-feet in diameter and 50-feet long.”
As she clung to the log in the cold water, China wondered how long she could survive, telling herself she would stand the conditions as long as necessary so she could keep the murderers from winning.
This is not the only difficulty facing China as she does her part for the investigation agency to solve Muldoon’s murder, and get to the bottom of other nefarious deeds taking place in the mining camp.
Although this is the first book I’ve read with China Bohannon as a character, “One Foot on the Edge,” published by Treble Heart, introduced China to the reading public. In that story she arrives in Spokane to find out about the death of a young girl and quickly sets out to prove that she was murdered. And C.K. tells me she is also working on a third novel with China as the principal character … it will involve a forest fire so there is plenty of excitement to anticipate.