Mystery captures readers

THE GRAY GHOST MURDERS. Keith McCafferty. Viking. 303 pages. $26.95.

“The Gray Ghost Murders” is a story of a man who tries to outwit death by sport. To do this, he attempts to persuade terminally ill individuals to go on the ultimate hunting trip, one in which they are the prey.

This antagonist believes that there is more dignity in trying to outwit a hunter than in wasting away in a hospital bed.

Keith McCafferty employs mystery novel standards including: a mysterious setting; a disillusioned former private detective looking for a fresh start after a painful divorce; and a by-the-book local sheriff.

With these elements in place, the author leads the reader into the Montana mountains, where a cadaver dog and its handler discover the remains of a missing person.

When the police arrive to analyze the crime scene, one of the investigators is viciously attacked by a bear. And it is into his place that former detective Sean Stranahan steps.

As with most fictional detectives, Stranahan has an unfortunate habit of turning up corpses. In “The Gray Ghost,” he uses his expertise as a trained tracker to locate the bodies of two men found slain in the mountains. Then he uses his skills as a detective to hunt down the killer.

Readers will be pleasantly surprised to find realistic descriptions of river and mountain scenery, weather patterns, and animal behavior.

An added bonus is McCafferty’s occasional graceful turn of phrase. Early in the novel, he writes, “For the wonder of a trout had nothing to do with its spots or the sheen of its flanks, but its ability to pull the angler back through time until he was no longer what the world had made of him, but who he was when that world was new.” That’s dollar writing in a dime novel.

Reviewer Hayden D. Shook teaches English as a Second Language at the Community center of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church and the College of Charleston.