Book Review: “Gabriel Du Pré” Mystery Series by Peter Bowen

I lost a friend this month, a friend known to PFL’s lovers of mysteries: Peter Bowen, the author of the Gabriel Du Pré series set in Montana.  I met Peter decades ago, when I was at the University of Michigan. He once said, “I attended the University of Michigan without much effect on either one of us.” But Peter was wrong. He had an effect on many, among them my husband Richard Sears, a professor of Art at Michigan. Dick feared that he hadn’t helped Peter very much during the time Peter took classes in the Art & Design Department, but, regardless, they became fast friends. During Dick’s last years, I knew when Peter was calling because of Dick’s uproarious laughter echoing through the house. We knew the Montana cowboy/tall Viking/foul-mouthed folksinger/well-read raconteur with the proverbial heart of gold for years before he became, as labelled by the New York Times review of the first Du Pré book CoyoteWind, “the Thoreau of Montana.” 

As David McCumber wrote earlier this month in his obituary of Peter: “Bowen was best-known for a series of 15 mystery novels set in the fictional Eastern Montana town of Toussaint, and featuring a Métis brand inspector named Gabriel Du Pré. He also wrote a four-book series of historical novels set in Montana in the 19th and early 20th century that blended history and humor in a way that delighted readers and critics alike. They featured a fictionalized version of the real-life Western character Luther Sage “Yellowstone” Kelly, a soldier, frontiersman, hunter and scout. Bowen was a writer’s writer, respected for his wordsmithing — and his irreverence and sardonic humor. For a time, he wrote columns for Forbes FYI magazine under the name ‘Coyote Jack.’”

It is hard not just to paste all of McCumber’s essay on Peter here as a way to share all the stories about him — his friendship with Christopher Buckley; Peter’s decision to run away to the mountains near Bozeman, Montana, rather than attend junior high school; his listening as a child to the tall tales told by old men, former cowboys of the 19th and early 20th century; and so on. Peter didn’t suffer fools gladly, nor did he mince words. But he loved to tell and write stories. 

When the library reopens, I invite you to sample the works of Peter Bowen, the series featuring his determined brand inspector/eccentric detective/skilled fiddler of Montana as Du Pré investigates a variety of crimes against individuals and the Métis people. There are stories that emphasize current issues and wrongdoings, while others take the reader back into the history of Montana’s settlement and ancient violence, or into the world of the mysterious shaman Benetsee, who sometimes guides Du Pré to the answer he seeks, sometimes just kicks his ass and disappears in a puff of smoke or the flight of a bird. That is how I would seek Peter now – in the howl of a coyote, the flight of a bird, the leap of a fish in a sparkling stream, or in echoes of raucous laughter. 

Review by Robin Haynes, Head of the History Room.

Many of Bowen’s books in this series are available on-line through Open Library.

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