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Book Review: Two Gabriel Du Pre' novels by Peter Bowen

By Robert McCool, Icon columnist

Welcome to the new Old West and a colorful cowboy and sometime deputy.

Life in Toussaint, Montana is all but disappeared. The Me'tis Indian people cling to their old ways while outsiders move into the area by the Wolf Mountains and bring their own problems to the town of five hundred survivors in this modern world.

This week I am exploring the Coyote French speaking people and their adventures in crime-solving. I received two Peter Bowen books, his tenth and his thirteenth in the Gabriel Du Pre' series. Badlands (St. Martins Minotaur, ISBN: 0-312-26252-3) from 2003, and Nails (St. Martins Minotaur, ISBN:0-312-31207-7) from 2006 feature the most interesting and crotchety oddball Gabriel Du Pre' in the starring role. This protagonist drinks whiskey like water, constantly smokes hand-rolled cigarettes, and plays the fiddle like a devil. He also fights crime and sets right what is wrong with his world.

Both of these books feature outside cults moving in on the ranch community, buying up land that is too poor for cattle to live on, and building their own communities largely hidden from the shrinking Me'tis population. These cults mostly concern themselves with some extreme religious beliefs.

Deaths ensue. Du Pre', with some help from the formidable Madelaine, his wife, and Benetsee, a mysterious wine gulping medicine man, tracks down the truth of the crime committed and solves it in his own special way, sometimes with help from the FBI.

Gabriel Du Pre' is humorous, often pointing out the absurdity of others with a simple observation. He's easy to love with his foibles and commitment to his people beyond all reason. He'd be fiddling and drinking whiskey and rolling smokes all the time, if he was not so vital and important to his community.

Peter Bowen knows his subject intimately and it shows. He is an advocate for the Me'tis people's lifestyle, both simple and delicate. In a world where simplicity is under siege from our complex modern society, he tells the story of the Indians and warns about betraying the earth's heavenly presence in our lives.

Told in English-translated Coyote French patois, the language structure becomes easier with more reading, until it shows the necessity of the accent. The land itself rings with descriptive Indian phrases.

These are interesting books, and a nice get-away from more popular fiction. I recommend these books as a missing piece in the new Old West.


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