Cold Hearted River


Based on a true story, the sixth novel in the acclaimed Sean Stranahan mystery series finds Montana’s favorite detective on the trail of Ernest Hemingway’s missing steamer trunk.



“McCafferty writes about fly-fishing, Hemingway, and the American West with obvious affection and authority. Colorful characters and forbidding locales complement the book’s central puzzle, which has surprising real-life roots.”

—Publishers Weekly


“An exciting adventure set against some of the West’s most stunning landscapes. Cleverly interwoven with the true story of Hemingway’s lost trunk, it goes far to elucidate the mystique of fly-fishing.”  



“When a book begins with a harrowing struggle for survival in the Montana mountains and uses as its MacGuffin a lost trunk of Ernest Hemingway’s fishing tackle (with the tantalizing possibility of lost manuscripts tucked inside), you know you’re not in for a run-of-the-mill mystery… McCafferty’s skill at creating memorable characters has even the walk-ons warming to the spotlight, and his background as the survival and outdoor skills editor of Field & Stream lends the outdoors scenes more authority than one finds in most western fiction. The fishing scenes will delight anyone who gets a chuckle out of Stranahan’s offhand ‘good fishing if not good catching’… The bittersweet ending hits all the right notes.”  

—Keir Graff, Booklist


When a woman goes missing in a spring snowstorm and is found dead in a bear’s den, Sheriff Martha Ettinger reunites with her once-again lover Sean Stranahan to investigate. In a pannier of the dead woman’s horse, they find a wallet, the leather engraved with the initials EH. Only a few days before, Patrick Willoughby, the president of the Madison River Liars and Fly Tiers Club, had been approached by a man selling fishing gear that he claims once belonged to Ernest Hemingway. A coincidence? Sean doesn’t think so, and he soon finds himself on the trail of a stolen steamer trunk rumored to contain not only the famous writer’s valuable fly fishing gear, but priceless pages of unpublished work.


The investigation will take Sean through extraordinary chapters in Hemingway’s life. Inspired by a true story, Cold Hearted River is a thrilling adventure, moving from Montana to Michigan, where a woman grapples with the secrets in her heart, to a cabin in Wyoming below the Froze To Death Plateau, and finally to Havana, Cuba where an old man struggles to complete his life’s mission one true sentence at a time.



I first heard about Ernest Hemingway’s steamer trunk of fishing tackle, the lost treasure chest at the heart of this novel, from his oldest son, Jack. At the time, some thirty-odd years ago, Jack and I were contributing editors for Field & Stream, and friendly colleagues, if not close friends. It was a blustery November day, easy to recall because all November days on British Columbia’s Thompson River are blustery, and we were the only fishermen along a stretch of the river known as the Graveyard, just down the hill from the old white crosses where all the graves face north. On toward dark, Jack hooked a steelhead of fifteen or sixteen pounds, which I landed for him in the tailout after a long fight. We admired this great seafaring trout for a few seconds before releasing it, and celebrated with a thermos cup of hot chocolate into which I laced peppermint schnapps, in honor of my father.

After toasting the fish, I asked Jack if he thought his own father would have liked this kind of fishing—that is, wading on slippery boulders in a river haunted by the dead, casting hour after hour in miserable weather, and considering yourself lucky to hook up once every few days and manage not to drown. He said that Ernest would have enjoyed the challenge, but that he’d lost the heart to fly fish after a steamer trunk containing all his valuable gear was stolen or lost from Railway Express in 1940, en route to Ketchum, Idaho, where he was a guest at the Sun Valley Lodge. In fact, Jack could only remember his father fly fishing once after the loss, in the Big Wood River. This was an interesting insight into the famous author’s psyche, but at the time I was more interested in casting my own fly rod than the fate of another man’s tackle or the sentiments it evoked.

Years passed, and I had no reason to recall the story until my wife, Gail Schontzler, persuaded me to set a novel in northwestern Wyoming, where Hemingway stayed at the L-Bar-T Guest Ranch during five summers and falls in the 1930s, hunting, fishing, and writing. By then Jack had died and I sought to verify the details of his story with Patrick Hemingway, Ernest’s sole surviving son, who lives in my hometown. I spoke with him at a local screening of the PBS American Masters series film Ernest Hemingway: Rivers to the Sea. Patrick was kind enough to indulge my questions and said he recalled the lost trunk, adding that it probably contained best-quality bamboo fly rods and reels ordered from the House of Hardy catalog. Hardy was the premier London maker, and Patrick remembered helping his father convert the prices from pounds sterling to American dollars.

Today, only one piece of Ernest Hemingway’s fly fishing tackle survives in intact condition, a Hardy rod in a model called the Fairy that he had with him when he first went to Idaho. It is displayed at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont, along with a letter to Field & Stream that Jack wrote about the missing tackle.

As concerns the possibility that the trunk contained Hemingway treasures unrelated to piscatorial pursuits, and perhaps of far greater value, there is one way to find out.

Pour a drink, light a fire, and turn the page. I have a story to tell.


Order a book, win a book (and one of Keith’s personally hand-tied flies)


For those of you who collect advanced reader copies, I should have two available for Cold Hearted River within the next few weeks. I will will send them to the first readers who contact me through the website. All I ask is that you keep buying my books and help pass the word, so I can continue receiving contracts and write more books. Also, I’ll tie a streamer fly, the pattern in the novels called Sam’s Skinny Minnow, for each of the first 5 readers who pre-order Cold Hearted River. Please email me through the Contacts link and make sure to include a street address for delivery.