Welcome to the official website of Keith McCafferty, award-winning author of The Royal Wulff Murders, The Gray Ghost Murders, and the soon-t0-be-released, heart-pounding third novel in the series, Dead Man’s Fancy. Here you will find information about the books, the author, and links to many of his articles. Be sure to also check out the The Deadwater Blog, which explores subjects ranging from the art of fly-tying to the art of writing about murder and everything in between.
DEAD MAN’S FANCY is available for pre-order!
THE GRAY GHOST MURDERS is a novel OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB “CAN’T PUT DOWN”
Notes from a traveling novelist
I recently returned from a week in New York, the first few days at the invitation of the Outdoor Writer’s Association, which held their 86th annual wingding at Lake Placid in the Adirondack Mountains, the last three in Albany at Bouchercon, the international convention of mystery readers and writers. An interesting contrast in purpose and humanity that ended with great news — The Gray Ghost Murders is officially an Oprah Book, having been chosen last week by the Oprah Winfrey Book Club as one of the “Five Most Suspenseful Books Out Now.” Pretty cool. In fact way cool, and I’ll never hear a bad word against this great woman for the rest of my life.
But back to New York. The OWAA people write for the greater good of our environment, carrying on the Theodore Roosevelt tradition of fish and wildlife conservation; I actually was eating lunch with Scott Hed, Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance For Alaska, when he announced that Anglo American had pulled its support for the Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, effectively ending the prospect that the controversial mine would be developed anytime soon. The mine could have spelled doom for the crown Jewel of Alaskan wilderness and the most productive salmon fishery on earth, and Scott had been the driving force, forming the coalition of commercial fishermen, Native Americans, and hunting and fishing groups that put the pressure on the mining companies. It was embarrassing for me to be considered one of this altruistic band of brothers and sisters, especially as I was the featured speaker the group had brought in and treated like royalty, being put up at the $500 a night Mirror Lake Inn, when even the OWAA director and program chair were sleeping a place so run down that the hotel offered to give them part of their money back. One woman had come all the way Iowa to hear me speak, saying that she knew if I read something she would cry. So it was a lot pressure to perform, as I committed to take part in a panel discussion about working with editors, as well as being the speaker for back to back sessions, the first hour on making the tradition from writing articles to novel, from “Fact To Fiction” as I called it, and then a two-hour session on “The Craft of the Narrative.” To prepare, I wrote down some introductory comments in an essay, which is posted on the website as “Why Narrative Writing Matters.”
All went well, and I segued from being a big fish in a good-sized lake to being a small fish in a big sea indeed at Bouchercon. Going in, I didn’t know that it was primarily a readers event, that for every writer there would be half a dozen women toting around bags of books to be signed by their favorite authors (and God bless them every one). I participated in a panel there, as well, my fellow panelists including New York Times best-selling authors and two writers who had movies in development. All were very well spoken and it was a little intimidating, but they were nice people and I held my own and got my share of smiles. Civilians at these writer events look at me as a bit of a Martian — the idea of a Field & Stream editor amuses them, and my story of hiking into the woods to survive for three nights with the clothes on my back and peeing on myself in the middle of the night because it’s too cold to crawl out of the debris hut is always good for a laugh.
Then afterward it was a kick to go to the Private Eye Writer’s Dinner, where guitarists serenaded us with the theme music from Peter Gunn and the Shamus Awards were presented, and the next night was fun, too, at my agent Dominick Abel’s annual Bouchercon dinner party. I got to rub shoulders and lift a few with fellow clients including Max Alan Collins, who wrote “Road to Perdition,” and Rod Philbrick, whose young adult novel “Freak The Mighty” has sold 3 million copies and was made into a movie starring Sharon Stone. Philbrick is a great guy and a fellow fishermen who spends half his time in the Keys. Hopefully, we’ll do some fishing together down the road. And there were other in Dominick’s stable, all very accomplished writers who make me realize I still have a long way to go, the blessing of the generous and beautiful Ms. Winfrey notwithstanding.
So it’s back to the page for me, fingers on the keyboard, cat on the lap, and counting down the days with the hope I can still get a little fishing in later this fall.
Fourteen months after moving to Montana, fly fisherman, painter and sometime private detective Sean Stranahan is still sleeping in his office-cum-art studio, cobbling together a livelihood as a fishing guide while hawking his riverscape watercolors. No longer a newcomer, he now knows the rivers and has a new love interest in Martinique, a cat lover who earns tuition money for veterinary school by selling coffee as a bikini barista.
But a life of romance and the perfectly painted horizon are not to be. A search dog has discovered the graves of two men on Sphinx Mountain. Sheriff Martha Ettinger suspects murder, but with a bear having scavenged the bodies and the only evidence a hole in a skull that might or might not have been caused by a bullet, she once more turns to Stranahan for help. He already has a case, having been hired by a group of eccentric fly fishermen called The Madison River Liars and Fly Tiers Club to find a valuable fly hat they suspect stolen.
Could the disappearance of a vintage Gray Ghost from a riverside cabin in the Madison Valley be connected to the gray ghosts who haunt Sphinx Mountain? Stranahan will cross paths, and arms, with some of the most powerful people in the valley to find out while enlisting the help of his friend and fellow guide, the irascible Rainbow Sam.
Learn how to tie the Grey Ghost, the fly for which my second novel The Grey Ghost Murders is named. A historical and beautiful pattern… Click on the images below that link to videos.
*The Royal Wulff Murders is a finalist for 2013 High Plains Book Award in the Fiction category.* The other finalists are Canada, by Richard Ford, and The Round House, by Louise Erdrich. This puts The Royal Wulff Murders in excellent company. Mr. Ford is the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award winner for Independence Day. Ms. Erdrich is the National Book Award winner for The Round House and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for The Plagues of Doves.
A clever and fast-paced murder mystery full of wit, suspense, and fly fishing.
When a fishing guide reels in the body of a young man on the Madison, the Holy Grail of Montana trout rivers, Sheriff Martha Ettinger suspects foul play. It’s not just the stick jammed into the man’s eye that draws her attention; it’s the Royal Wulff trout fly stuck in his bloated lower lip. Following her instincts, Ettinger soon finds herself crossing paths with Montana newcomer Sean Stranahan.
Fly fisher, painter, and has-been private detective, Stranahan left a failed marriage and lackluster career to drive to Montana, where he lives in an art studio decorated with fly-tying feathers and mouse droppings. With more luck catching fish than clients, Stranahan is completely captivated when Southern siren Velvet Lafayette walks into his life, intent on hiring his services to find her missing brother. The clues lead Stranahan and Ettinger back to Montana’s Big Business: fly fishing. Where there’s money, there’s bound to be crime.
The fishing guide known as Rainbow Sam found the body. Or rather, it was the client casting from the bow of Sam’s driftboat, working a fly called a Girdle Bug in front of a logjam that parted the current of the Madison River. When the float indicator pulled under the surface, Sam winced, figuring a snag. The client, whose largest trout to date had been the size of a breakfast sausage, reared back as if to stick a tarpon.
The body submerged under the driftwood shook free of its tether, bobbed to the surface and floated, face down, the hook buried in the crotch of the waders.
The client’s reel screamed. The bloated corpse took line, steadily, implacably, in the manner of a large carp. Leaning hard on the oars, Sam closed the gap between his boat and the body. Calmly, in a voice that had coaxed a thousand neophyte anglers, he instructed his client to drop the long-handled net over the dead man’s head. The catch so enmeshed, he angled his Clackacraft downstream at the pace of the current, fanning the oars gently toward a bay at the bank.
“We got him!” the client beamed.
Sam thought, “Holy shit.” But he made a mental note to convert all his monofilament leader material to Orvis Superstrong in the future, just the same. The eight pound tippet had held like a stout steel cable.
“I’ll tell you what, Buddy,” Sam muttered, as he stepped out of the driftboat and gingerly lifted the meshes of the net over a hank of flowing hair. “You may not be God’s gift to trout fishin’, but you just got yourself a whopper of a story.”
Sam worked the hook from the waders, then rolled the body face-up. For the next few moments neither man spoke. The client, his florid face suddenly ashen, leaned over the gunwale and threw up, starting with the tin of kippered herring he’d had for a snack after Sam’s bankside lunch. He was a big eater and it took a half dozen heaves to get it all up.
Rainbow Sam just stared. It wasn’t only the ruptured left eye socket, from which a splinter of stick protruded like a skeletal finger, that riveted his attention. It was the lower lip, grotesquely swollen and purple as a plum. He bent down for a closer look. In the center of the lip was a trout fly. It was a Royal Wulff, a hair wing dry fly pattern about the size of an evening moth. Tied on a #12 hook, Sam decided. The barb was buried in the flesh; from the hook’s down-turned eye dangled a strand of monofilament leader material.
“Ah shit,” Sam said, having recovered from the shock of the mutilation. “I think I know this kid. Goddammit anyhow.”
For the angler was a very young man, little more than a teenager, Sam thought. He had floated past where the angler was wade fishing only a few weeks before, on a stretch of river not far upstream. He remembered the occasion because the fisherman wasn’t cut from the same khaki and Gortex cloth that stamped most Madison River pilgrims. Sam disapproved of anglers who dressed like pages out of catalogues. They projected a GQ quality that might serve one in good social stead at an upscale fishing lodge, but emphasized particulars to which trout paid no attention.
By contrast, this man’s waders were stained and patched and he fished without a vest, let alone one sporting the obligatory ten pockets. “How are you doing, Mr. Sam?” the young man had called out that morning as Sam glided by. And Sam, momentarily taken aback before realizing that the angler had read his name from the logo stenciled on the bow, had tipped his cap in reply. It was a grace note in the day, considering that wade fishermen and boat anglers competed for the same water. Tensions could become strained on a popular river like the Madison.
“Now why the fuck did this have to happen to a nice kid like that?” the fishing guide muttered to himself.
He waded ashore, sucking the back of a tooth.
“Stay here,” he said. “I’m going to call the sheriff. Don’t touch anything while I’m gone.” Sam’s client, having clambered out of the boat, was sunk to his knees in the shallows, a string of drool hanging from his stubbled chin. A few feet away, a school of tiny fish flashed under the yellow wash of vomit. The man nodded dumbly.
Rainbow Sam climbed the steep riverbank. For just a second he took in his surroundings, the river reflecting lavender evening clouds and the deeper purples of the mountains, its current running between banks of wild roses. It was part of what attracted anglers from around the world to the Madison—the setting and the water quality, a champagne of intoxicating clarity that poured in one effervescent riffle from Quake Lake to the small fishing town of Ennis. And then, too, there were the trout, with their ruby stripes and polished flanks, as hard as metal and as perfect as God ever made.
Well, Sam thought, this poor bastard has caught his last one.
He noted the nearest residences, a log mansion sporting panoramic riverfront windows and, just upstream, a chinked-up homestead cabin with a rusted half-ton in the drive. He spat, automatically registering the twenty-first century Montana paradox—Big Sky native cheek to jowl with summer gentry—whose house being the eyesore depending upon your point of view. Well, one ought to have a phone, anyway. He cinched the belt around his waders and began to walk.
—from The Royal Wulff Murders