The Bangtail Ghost

On a cold day in the dead of a Montana winter, a single whisker discovered at a scene of horrific violence suggest that a woman has been attacked and carried away by a mountain lion. Sheriff Martha Ettinger employs her fiancé, part-time detective Sean Stranahan, to “join teams with the dead” and put a name to the gnawed bones and scattered remains, which include fake fingernails and a breast implant that, along with other clues, point to the victim being a prostitute who was entertaining wayward hunters.  The woman’s will be the first of several deaths that Sean suspects are not as easily explained as they appear.  As a reign of terror grips the Madison Valley, blood in the tracks will lead him from the river to the snow-covered ridge tops, as he finds himself on his most dangerous quest yet. For as Sean comes closer to unearthing the secrets shared by the dead and missing, the tracks he is following will turn and the hunter becomes the hunted.


Booklist: McCafferty’s Sean Stranahan and Martha Ettinger novels sneak up on you: they’re as comfortable as the proverbial old shoe, always offering an entertaining mix of human comedy and outdoor adventure, but inevitably there’s some grisly stuff hiding in the shadows. This time it’s mountain lions, and, while the big cats generally want nothing to do with people, even for dinner, sometimes they do. That’s the case here, in Montana’s Gravelly Range, where the disappearances of two and possibly more people may be the result of attacks by a rogue cat. PI and fishing guide Stranahan and his soon-to-be wife, Sheriff Ettinger, are tasked with finding the victims and tracking the mountain lion. As the pair dig into the case, they find that human malfeasance may be behind the lion attacks. As always in this series, McCafferty, the survival and outdoor skills editor at Field & Stream, writes about the wild with knowledge and eloquence, and that’s especially true this time, as he simultaneously scares us to the bone with descriptions of cats stalking prey and manages to imbue the predators with tragic grandeur. — Bill Ott Publisher’s Weekly Review Bangtail Ghost: A Sean Stranahan Mystery Keith McCafferty. Viking, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-56205-4 The discovery of a woman’s mutilated body in the mountains of southwest Montana propels McCafferty’s top-notch eighth mystery featuring painter, fishing guide, and occasional PI Sean Stranahan (after 2018’s A Death in Eden). Paw prints and DNA evidence indicate that the woman was killed and partially eaten by a mountain lion. The locals react with alarm, and Sean’s fiancée, Sheriff Martha Ettinger, forms a task force to identify the victim and track down the lion before it kills again. Initial attempts fail dramatically, but eventually Sean and dog handler Buster Garrett tree and kill the cat in a vividly drawn nighttime chase. A few months later, however, when both a sheep herder and Buster are killed in eerily similar lion attacks, the cycle appears to be starting again. A gimmicky means of murder revealed late in the story ties up a few loose ends, but crime is only of secondary interest. The primary focus throughout is Montana’s Big Sky country and its big cats. Regional mystery fans have cause to rejoice.