Sheriff Bo Tully of Blight County, Idaho is back in “The Huckleberry Murders” by Spokane author and humorist Patrick McManus.
Tully’s latest adventure happens a few weeks after the events of the previous book in the series “The Double-Jack Murders.” Things in Blight County have mostly gotten back to normal, but “normal” for that fictional part of Idaho involves a surprising amount of petty crime.
At the beginning of the book, Tully has been overworked for a while and he is getting nowhere with a missing person case. There is reason to believe that Orville Poulson, who supposedly took a trip to Mexico, was killed by his ranch caretaker Ray Crockett. Orville’s ex-wife Marge is putting pressure on Tully to arrest Crockett. Unfortunately, Tully doesn’t have enough evidence for a search warrant.
Tully decides to take a day off and honor an old Idaho tradition of going out to the woods to pick huckleberries. Before he even has a chance to move away from his truck, he finds himself investigating a triple homicide.
Three young men were shot from behind and left out on Scotchman Mountain. As Tully and his deputy Brian Pugh begin noticing a lot of activity that is strange even for Blight County, they come to the conclusion that three mysterious newcomers may be responsible for the murders and a lot of other criminal activity in the area. However, what they know and what they can prove are two different things.
Tully quickly figures out that there was a fourth intended victim who got away with a minor injury. If he can find the young man, he may be able to arrest the killers.
Since the latest Blight County murders happened on federal land, an FBI agent arrives on the scene to take over the investigation. Agent Angela Phelps surprises Tully by agreeing to do things his way (for the most part). Soon, after spending a few hours in Spokane following up some leads, Tully and Phelps gather a few of Tully’s allies and go out in the woods looking for the three suspects.
“The Huckleberry Murders” is more of a straightforward procedural story than “The Double-Jack Murders.” To a certain extent, that’s because Tully and his notorious father Pap are trying to behave themselves around Phelps instead of doing things “the Blight way.”
Readers get to see Tully doing things a little more by the book this time, which creates some nice tension. In the last book, Tully basically plotted to murder somebody. This time around, he is trying harder to be the good guy and that makes him a much more sympathetic character.
Astute readers will figure out pretty quickly that the two big cases in the book are related. McManus will still delight and surprise people who put the pieces together early with how he brings all the plot elements and various examples of wrongdoing together neatly at the end.
The patented McManus humor is on display as well. Judicious use of dry one-liners and occasional displays of outrageous behavior provide pleasant distractions from the nuts and bolts of the murder investigation.
Readers will enjoy meeting quirky Blight County residents such as alleged psychic Etta Gorsich or former high school biology teacher turned violent poacher Poke Wimsey. Supposedly, everyone in the county is afraid of Poke and he turns out to be a rather charming fellow who published three books of poetry.
“The Huckleberry Murders” is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Spokane County Library District.