There are many sides to literary Montana. One is the Montana of the poet and painter. That is the Montana of landscapes and mountains, of blue-ribbon trout streams and elk herds and wide-open spaces under a wide-open sky.
Another Montana is the Montana of the Western. That is the Montana of small tough towns, and cowboys, of people who live close to edge of the ever-present natural and human wilderness.
There is I suppose another Montana as well that has developed over the years. That is the Montana of literary carpetbaggers. It is the Montana of college-educated interlopers from tamer places who think it is fun to slum in a tough town bar every now and then, or to work their own boutique-herd of cattle purchased by hook or crook, by Hollywood exploits or New York-lauded literary sales. But in the end, their books always seem hollow because they know only part of Montana, the tourist part, the view out the window. Hence they do not know Montana at all.
They have never had to work someone else’s cattle, or build someone else’s fence-line. They have never sat in a town bar and known what it is like not to have enough money for another beer, or enough money on a Monday morning to put enough gas into their pickup truck so they can work another day at a soul-killing job they hate. They do not know what it is like to have rich outsiders buying up all the ranches, driving up prices, wanting to change the way things are.
Montana is beautiful and it is violent. It is hard-fought high school football and basketball games that really matter to county pride. It is crushing rural poverty. It is back-breaking employment that takes a toll on your body and soul for a wage that would be laughable in any tamer place. It is a place where outside businesses and outside interests are always to be suspected because they see the place where you live as only a commodity, a place to be bought cheap and sold to the highest bidder
There are many ways to write about Montana. Gary Cook has chosen the hard-boiled way.
Cook creates the kind of characters that would be at home in a Carl Hiaasen novel or an Elmore Leonard one and then gives them one great stage to act on, the “real” Montana… or at least the gritty and noir-ish edge of the real one.
A Murder of Wolves is available at Amazon.
Here are the opening lines of the Chapter Two. Read them and you can easily see why I enjoyed A Murder of Wolves so much.