I've been a big fan of Neil McMahon for some time now, having read all (and reviewed most) of his books to date. Although I had been looking forward to another episode in the series featuring emergency room physician Carroll Monk, I have to say that McMahon's latest, a stand-alone thriller entitled Lone Creek, eclipses all of his work thus far. Set in modern-day Montana, Lone Creek is the story of an Old-West territory inundated with developers, of working ranches fast becoming little more than hobby acreage (with serious bragging rights, mind you) for wealthy out-of-state businessmen. Construction worker Hugh Davoren labors by day at the old Pettyjohn ranch, crafting an immense new residence on the very place where he worked as a youngster some 20 summers ago. By accident, he stumbles upon the carcasses of two horses, shotgunned to death, then unceremoniously dumped in the construction trash site. While he debates what to do with this knowledge, he gets railroaded on a trumped-up theft charge and run off the Pettyjohn property; quickly he realizes that there is something underhanded going on, and he resolves to get to the bottom of it, hopefully without landing his butt in jail for the next 10 years.

Assisting him is one of the best second bananas in contemporary mysteries, the aptly named Madbird, a Native American with more than a bit of Coyote, the Indian mischief spirit, in his makeup. Together the two explore a contemporary mystery that has its roots in an earlier generation, stirring up ghosts for Hugh Davoren and his enemies alike. If you revel in the gritty western mysteries of James Crumley, the outdoorsy suspense thrillers of C.J. Box, or the quirkily delightful Alaskan whodunits of John Straley, do yourself a big favor and pick up Lone Creek. It may well be your favorite book purchase of the year.


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