Solving Crimes with a Fly Rod

Solving Crimes with a Fly Rod

A pair of mystery novels, a book by Babb and saltwater flies

  • By: Seth Norman
Running Dark By Joseph Heywood (The Lyons Press: 2005; 888-249-7586; www.lyonspress.com) 296 pp.; hardcover; $19.95 Blood Atonement By Jim Tenuto (The Lyons Press: 2005; 888-249-7586; www.lyonspress.com) 306 pp.; hardcover; $21.95 However dark and brooding, mysteries seem to qualify as "light reading," so they are a popular choice for gift-givers related to recipients by accident or marriage. Here's a pair for those who wouldn't mind if their sleuthing Sam was Spey instead of Spade.Forgive that tortured effort, but it's typical of too many I've seen from mystery-with-fly-fishing authors, although few would have a clue to the pun. That's not a problem for Joseph Heywood, last reviewed here for The Snowfly, or Jim Tenuto, new to the novel game. Heywood's been busy: Running Dark is the fourth book in his Woods Cop Mystery series. Set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, these books follow the gritty adventures of Grady Service, a conservation officer who travels with baggage: memories-his own and other people's-of his hard-living father, also a warden and now nearly legend; aftershocks from Vietnam; and a history with women, many women, stormy enough to sink the Edmund Fitzgerald. There's less fly-fishing in Service's life than he would like because he's usually deep in forests hunting poachers from hell, or wading deep in bureaucratic excrement, and navigating one or more relationships with some smart, tough and likable women. There's little fly-fishing in Heywood's books, when you get right down to it. But these days I look forward to each new one, and, for what it's worth, Service approaches crime and criminals the way anglers and hunters do prey, reading patterns and proclivities, one predator after another. On the other hand, there's lots of fly-fishing in Blood Atonement, first of the Dahlgren Wallace mystery series, which begins when a Gulf War vet turned Montana guide loses a client to blunt-force trauma. It doesn't help that the victim is a lot of things Dahlgren reputedly doesn't like: rich, Mormon and Californian. Protagonist becomes prime suspect, so Dahlgren is compelled to investigate; and in the process collects a mentor, offends and befriends a variety of law enforcement types, and ultimately explores some shadowy religious history. The resolution turns on a clue only a fly fisher would find, and a river runs red through it. Introduction to Saltwater Fly Tying By Scott Sanchez (Pruett Publishing: 2004; 303-449-4919; www.pruettpublishing.com) 160 pp.; hardcover; $34.95 Perhaps you live by a sea, want to whip feathers on hooks for toothsome beasts, and would prefer something practical? Although excellent fly-tying primers abound, I cannot recall any built on the premise author Scott Sanchez declares in his introduction to Saltwater Fly Tying: "Entry-level saltwater tiers have had to buy trout books for the basics and then extrapolate the information into saltwater recipes. This book fills the void." So it does, beginning with clear text and bright illustrations of tools and materials, and continuing, step by step, through 52 patterns. These fly styles are straightforward and that word is echoed in a blurb by our own Ted Leeson, who ought to know. Don't imagine this translates to "less than the best:" Sanchez's own award-winning patterns are sold commercially-his Double Bunny took the Jackson Hole One Fly prize three years in a row-and he also includes here many classic ties. Fly-Fishin' Fool By James R. Babb (The Lyons Press: 2005; 888-249-7586; www.lyonspress.com) 256 pp.; hardcover; $24.95 Fans of Cross Currents and River Music will grin at this title, the last book of a trilogy. It's a modest conceit-if Jim R. Babb is a fool, pray tell us whose. The author confesses his meaning before we finish his forward: to poke fun at "foolish things I've done or tried to do or failed to do," and entertain in the process; to embrace the role of jester, "an officially sanctioned eccentric," licensed "to articulate what everyone was thinking but no one dared say;" and "to write about (fly-fishing) the only way I can, as a natural-born damned fool who finds almost everything at least a little bit funny, and likes to share this with his friends. Which, unless you return this book, includes you." Readers unfamiliar with Babb should not infer that the editor of Gray's Sporting Journal eschews important issues, including essays about conservation-how each of us struggles to do the right thing, for example-and what becomes of fly-fishing manners and protocol on streams increasingly crowded. Instead, they should prepare to enjoy the bathos Babb inserts between contemplations serious or sublime. Take those bumbling days, when nothing goes right and that which goes wrong gets worse by the minute. Babb delights in one of these, on a trip so awful he's "way past tears when I stumbled into the clearing where I'd left my Jeep and spare glasses and bug dope and an old fiberglass fly rod and heard, over the roar of the wild river and the soughing of its lone pines, Buck Owens and the Buckeroos nasaling away at 'Tiger by the Tail' and saw what appeared to be the entire Clampett Clan moved in right next door." And that's hardly the end of his suffering. Suffice to say that by the time he's driving home, our pilgrim is numb enough to "hardly (notice) when the clutch cable snapped just after reaching the highway… " No writer working today surprises me as often as Jim Babb. A lot of that is language-verbs that pirouette precisely or crack bones at a joint, descriptives chosen so carefully that a sentence pivots upon them, as when stalking a "dachshund-size brown," he "tossed into a seam off his starboard quarter…" Then there's imagery, and his range thereof: an ex-Navy something and an English scholar, Babb steals metaphors from more quarters, as it were, than most of us can count in the whole of one life, from classes blue-collar to blue-blooded. It's alchemy, really, the way this author charges familiar elements of an angler's world with such insights that readers will recognize-again, I am sure-what treasures this passion adds to our lives, and understand that each one of us is a fly-fishin' fool, and lucky to be one.