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By Christopher Wright
It’s wintertime, Christmas is just around the corner and the season always calls to mind images of snow-capped mountains. Recently this got me thinking about Montana and sharing a collection of stories by Robert Sims Reid, about two Montana sleuths whose adventures make for some engaging entertainment over the holidays.
You’ve never heard of Reid? Neither had I until a friend on Goodreads.com recommended him. A former Montana police officer, Reid has written four first-rate crime and mystery stories. It’s a pity he’s no longer adding to the collection, as he now lives in France and writes poetry.
The library recently purchased newly printed copies for our collection, thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Library. After reading the first one, I quickly devoured all of them. Here’s a rundown of the titles:
Big Sky Blues (1988) is not a mystery, but a police crime story that sounds all too real. It is like Joseph Wambaugh meets Thomas McGuane, in that it has a very pensive, solemn, serious and literary feel to it. This novel is a very intimate look into the life of law enforcement partners and the effect that relationship has on marriages. Reid effectively captures the action and the monotony of life in a small, “boring” town in the American West. Ray Bartell, a detective, is the protagonist and is featured later in Reid’s Wild Animals as well.
The Red Corvette (1992) is the tale of retired Montana cop Leo Banks, who goes back “home” to Illinois at the behest of a former girlfriend to solve the murder of her husband. The couple had visited Banks several months previously. The husband and Banks had been the woman’s suitors back in the day. These past relationships infuse the start of the investigation—which revolves not only around the murder of the husband, a small town doctor, but also a more than 50-year-old crime the doctor was investigating—with a slew of emotions. The outsider, Banks, arrives in the small Illinois town in the summer. It’s hotter than hell and it seems even the weather wants him gone. The interactions between the retired cop and the residents captivate. Although not much is happening, Reid’s storytelling—with a cast of eccentric small-town characters including the sheriff, his Barney Fife-like deputy, the town drunk, the local DA and an almost feudal lord type who owns all the farmland—makes The Red Corvette a real page-turner.
Benediction (1992) is another fine noirish police procedural featuring Detective Leo Banks. Leo takes a 9-1-1 call from a distraught woman and ends up with more than he bargained for as he gets involved with some rich, powerful men with whom he has had disagreements in the past. Banks also walks the line between personal and professional involvement with a victim who might not just be a victim. Benediction is a short and suspenseful read with a surprise ending.
Wild Animals (1995) gets into the head, heart and soul of a cop—and why not, as the author is a detective. Set in Montana, the story combines normal police work with eco-terrorism and political intrigue. Detective Ray Bartell is one of those guys who perhaps is stuck in his job because he’s too competent and not a sycophant.
Stay tuned for more on Montana sleuths next month.
The Dana Point Library’s informal group, the Tea Time Book Club, meets every fourth Monday of the month from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and tea is served. On Monday, Dec. 28, the club will meet to discuss The Martian. Bring your favorite tea cup and join us. All are welcome.
For more information about upcoming events across the Orange County Public Libraries system, visit www.ocpl.org. The site also provides access to online databases, digital copies of popular magazines, PDF copies of historical sheet music, ebooks, audiobooks, jobseeker resources and more.
Chris Wright is not sure if he lives to read or if he reads to live. He has been a public librarian with the OC Public Libraries since 2006 and currently works at the Dana Point branch.