Stick Game

Peter Bowen, Author Minotaur Books $23.95 (282p) ISBN 978-0-312-20297-2
The Stick Game--a combination of brazen bluff, shrewd guesses and inspired storytelling played by teams from various Native American tribes--is an apt metaphor for Bowen's seventh book (after 1999's Long Son) about crusty Montana crime-solver Gabriel Du Pr . Gabe's father was a Meti s, a member of one of the area's oldest tribes, and Gabe wears his ethnic history like a warm coat. Besides being an expert fiddler, a cattle inspector and part-time deputy sheriff, he's a consumer of large quantities of whiskey, hand-rolled tobacco and red meat. Bowen blends all these qualities into such a seamless whole, bringing to life a memorable, fallible human being, that a certain lack of heft in the plot and a sometimes meandering narrative don't seem to matter as they might in a lesser writer's work. At the Crow Fair in the bleak town of Hardin, Gabe and longtime ladyfriend Madelaine meet her cousin, whose oldest son has disappeared, and he agrees to help out. Soon after, a crippled accordion player asks Gabe to do something about the poisoned water that caused the accordion player's birth defects. Both investigations lead to a gold-mining operation that provides many local jobs. In other hands, melodrama could easily rear its head and trample the scenery, but Bowen has a firm grip on his large cast of interesting players, and what emerges is something quieter and more believable: a poignant, often funny tale about grace vs. greed. Gabe's playing a tune he has written called ""Billy Drank the Gold,"" about a dead boy poisoned by toxic waste, is more powerful than any environmental diatribe. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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