Thursday, March 27, 2008


According to the blog called “” (subtitled “Montana Noir”) which is written by either Michael McCulloch, author of the novel called “Cold Lessons” or by Keir Graff, Booklist Online’s Senior Editor, the “Great Montana Crime Novels” are:
Black Cherry Blues, by James Lee Burke
Blood Trail, by Gary J. Cook
Deadman, by Jon A. Jackson
Death and the Good Life, by Richard Hugo
Red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammett
Stick Game, by Peter Bowen
The Last Good Kiss, by James Crumley
The Nature of Midnight, by Robert Rice
Winter Range, by Claire Davis

I don’t usually read “noir,” so the only ones I’ve read are “Winter Range,” “Death and the Good Life” and “The Last Good Kiss.” But this is a set of writers who aren’t in the usual Missoula rhapsodic Montana ranchlife sort of context. Burke and Crumley, the “Old Bulls,” are occasionally interviewed at the Montana Festival of the Book.

I’m thinking about this because Gary Cook just come over my horizon recently in the form of an inquiry about what a Blackfeet warrior might wear in 1800. He’d found me via Google, that strange trickster and introduction artist. By now, I’m at least a reader of his. This is an open (rather edited) letter to him that I just sent:

First, it's a grim chilly day and I'd planned to go to GF, but decided to put it off. Now I'm glad because I just found out that the GF Book Festival is on Saturday -- a well-kept secret (why are writers and book aficionadoes so secretive?). Then they wonder why no one but the already initiated ever comes. The heroes (and they ARE that in GF minds) will be Jamie Ford, Aaron Parrett and Pete Fromm who will read Friday night.

On Saturday will be jr. hi kids -- I heard them last year and they were pretty good -- and a panel including Jamie Ford, Liz Larcom and Carleen Milburn. They're going to tell how to make a living from writing. I thought that might be pretty useful!

Then Carleen Milburn, Elsie Pankowski, Beatrix Jenness, Gerianne Poulsen and Carl Jensen, who are " a well-established GF group" it says, it will read. Then Anne Bauer (Helena) and Frederick Bridger tell about how to have a writing group. Then another group reads: Larry Bauer, Lowell Jaeger, Brady Robinson, Kelly Egleine, Mark Gibbons, Dave Thomas and Henrietta Goodman.

I've never read ANYTHING by any of these guys. Someone referred me to Jamie Ford's website and I've been watching it. The only other person I ever heard of is Lowell Jaeger (maybe Carl Jensen) but I can't remember what I heard. I doubt that any of them have heard of me either. My experience is that writing (and all the other arts) in Montana are bunched up into little enclaves, self-protective, unknown to the public until they hit the Manhattan NY scene where the publicity lives. The Montana Festival of the Book usually just rounds up the usual suspects: i.e. the people the organizers know.

Second, Last night I fumbled around on the Internet until I found the beginning of Cook’s "Blood Trail" which is still supposed to be coming through Inter-library loan. Very cinematic. Easy to imagine Brad Pitt and some new version of Tom Berenger. Dunno if any Hollywood wranglers have cobra snakes on hand. I look forward to the rest, but I'm NOT fond of snakes, though I can tolerate big squeezers rather than little vipers. (I used to impound escaped boas when I did animal control stuff. Amazing to hold.)

Third, "Wounded Moon" came in the mail this morning and I just finished reading it. Won't finish thinking about it for quite a while. On one level it's the usual ranger romance ("I'm initiated and therefore competent, but you aren't, so you'd better treat me nice!”) Sort of an Appalachian Western. (Ed Abbey claimed that Westerns CAME FROM the Appalachians, which means -- I suppose -- that they really come from the Scots/English borderlands. Or at least their mindset: defiant exceptionalism.)

On another level, the story (a killer grizz is after a little girl) is real and easily absorbed because of small accurate details. The mysticism, when it begins to creep in, is almost "Annie Dillard" style at first -- a cloud of singing birds. The rage in the grizz is as much a natural infection as a response to a transponder in the hands of evil men. And I like the angels being horsemen (no wings). (We've had enough of Apocalyptic Evil Horsemen as in "Lord of the Rings.") The man in this story who buries dolls was real, but connected to the mystic, which is on the line between life and death. I did begin to feel as though All the Men were Heroic, All the Women were Competent, and all the Children were Angels. Except for a few local thugs from under rocks.

I'm a practical and scientific person with an anthropological itch and a love of animals. At the moment I'm trying to write about liturgy, how to shape it so it calls the spirit. My conviction is that there IS a world out there, but we only have our mind/bodies as instruments to interface with it -- faulty and untrained. Words won't suffice. I'm very interested in the "felt concepts" that psychoanalysts and some mind-theory people consider. Pre-, sub-, alternate -- whatever: what we dream, what inspires poetry, song and art, what is at the heart of religious systems. It is possible to learn a kind of discipline, a way of managing one's own consciousness, calling people -- entirely leaving aside whether it's "true" or not. NO magic.

This is where I thought Gary shone, never quite picking up the usual dogma about what is what, but never brushing the whole thing off with some glib explanation either. He spoke of the True without trying to impose it. He respects the mystery.

Who can draw the lines?

Anyway, it was a good thriller besides -- all the best heroes get martyred. All the best lovers escape having to live happily ever after, washing the dishes and fixing the car. And there was a dog named "History." I suspect it was a catahouya hound.

I’m very pleased at “discovering” Gary J. Cook. Maybe day after tomorrow I’ll discover other compelling Montana writers in GF.


mscriver said...

Here's the url for "Blood Trail" if you want to read the prologue and look at the cover. The book itself can cost as much as $350. Dennis McMillan is a very interesting publisher who does only fine hardbound books.

Prairie Mary

Keir said...

I reviewed Blood Trail for Booklist and was fortunate enough to receive a case-bound copy. It really is a beautiful book.

For the record, my list is called "Great Montana Crime Novels" with an implied "Some" at the beginning, not "The"--I wouldn't presume to make a definitive list, as I haven't read them all!

Enjoyed seeing your blog, Prairie Mary.

broiderqueen said...

I enjoyed your blog, Prairie Mary, but question something you wrote about Gary Cook.

In my research, I find That Gary J. Cook wrote "Blood Trail" and he also seems to have written an earlier book "Graveyard Rules" copyrighted and published in 1988 by Pocket Books. It also takes place in Montana. But "Wounded Moon" was written by Gary W. Cook (as per Diane Vogt, ForeWord Magazine, November/December 2004 when she was reviewing the book and noting others that Gary W. Cook had written).

I wish that I knew more about Gary J. Cook but haven't had much luck tracking down any pertinent info.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

When I wrote this post I still had not sorted out the two Gary Cooks. Gary J. Cook wrote "Blood Trail" and "Graveyard Rules" and Gary W. Cook wrote "Wounded Moon." Gary J. Cook is a Montana writer writing about Montana and Vietnam. Gary W. Cook is back east. Their styles are quite different.

I had quite a long correspondence with Gary J. Cook who was living on Flathead Lake at the time. I've since lost track of him.

Prairie Mary
(Mary Scriver)

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008, I posted a review of "Blood Trail."

Prairie Mary

cookie said...

Love your commentary. Just wanted you to know that Gary W. Cook has released his next novel "Chance of Rain" which is set in Houston County, TN, Cook's old stomping grounds. Quite an enjoyable read.

Unknown said...

Does anyone know how old Gary J. Cook is? Thank you and happy holidays.