The Blight Way by Patrick F. McManus

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The Blight Way by Patrick McManus

Series: Sheriff Bo Tully #1

Kindle Edition, 288 pages

Published: March 2, 2006 by Simon & Schuster

Setting: Idaho

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When Bo Tully, sheriff of Blight County, Idaho, is called to a murder scene at Batim Scragg’s ranch, he takes along his father, “Pap” Tully, the former county sheriff. After all, it’s Pap’s 75th birthday, and he can think of no better present than a good murder.

As Pap puts it:

“I hope it’s an actual murder, not just a killing. It would be nice if there was something for me to solve. I hate it when all you got to do is go down to the nearest bar and arrest the guy that’s bragging about the killing.”

When they arrive at the Scraggs’ ranch, they find a corpse draped over the fence. The baffling thing is that neither Batim nor his two sons, who are all inveterate criminals, appear to be the perpetrators. Bo and Pap, along with Bo’s deputies and his Crime Scene Investigation Unit (who answers to “Lurch”), quickly find themselves in the midst of an investigation that is more complicated than they’d anticipated.

It usually takes me a while to warm up to a new mystery series, but this one grabbed me right away. Forty-two-year-old Bo Tully — a good ole boy sheriff who paints with watercolors, has a trained spider, and isn’t above reading Danielle Steele for tips on how to relate to women — is an engaging hero … or anti-hero — I’m not entirely sure which. The author has an irresistible sense of humor, and the dialogue is priceless.

McManus also has a gift for spare but clear and vivid descriptive writing, helping me feel I am exploring the rural Idaho woods.

The valley stretched away on either side of the highway with the Blight River meandering a parallel course far off across mildly undulating grasslands. The river banks were lined with cottonwoods, their fall leaves now only tatters dancing in the wind. Tully thought of the leaves as Cadmium Yellow Light. Beyond the river, to the east, the Snowy Range of the Rockies surged up abruptly from the valley floor. To the west, the ragged granite peaks and ridges of the Hoodoo Range protruded above the banks of morning fog.

My only objection to this novel is Tully’s cavalier attitude toward search warrants, his habit of arresting suspects without clear probable cause or reading them their rights, and other dodgy practices. To his credit, the author didn’t simply overlook these problems. He helped readers suspend disbelief by making this fit Bo’s and Pap’s characters — according to them, conducting investigations in this manner is the “Blight way.” However, this didn’t sit well with me. Even in Blight County, I suspect there would be courts that ran — more or less — according to the standards of constitutional law, and what’s the point of gathering evidence and making arrests that won’t hold up in court?

Nevertheless this was a terrific read, well crafted and skillfully paced with clear, interesting descriptions of police procedure. The characters, while drawn with a light hand, are well done. I was left feeling that Bo is an interesting guy who I’d like to get to know better. The author created a strong sense of place, with vivid glimpses of the natural world, and the use of humor and dialogue is outstanding. I have already purchased the sequel to this novel, and I plan to finish the series.

Memorable Quotes:

“Most of the dead bodies I find are in our local drinking establishments. With the killer at the bar bragging about his work.”

“Corrupt? Only in the good sense. Most of the politicians can be bought, but they don’t charge much. Even the poor can afford a politician or two. It’s very democratic that way.”

“Some jail inmates were out in the cage playing basketball. They stopped to look at Tully. He looked back. For the first time, they all looked innocent to him. He held up his hand in greeting . Several of them returned the gesture. Those , of course, would be the sociopaths. Normal people remain angry at being put in jail. Still, it was nice to get a polite response for a change. Thank goodness for sociopaths.”

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