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Bitch Creek, Gray Ghost and Dark Tiger by William G. Tapply – Three soothing crime fiction books

Bitch Creek (2004), Gray Ghost (2007) and Dark Tiger (2009) by William G. Tapply. French titles: Dérive sanglante, Casco Bay, Dark Tiger. Translated by Camille Fort-Cantoni and François Happe.

A lady working for the publisher Gallmeister recommended William G. Tapply to me. I started with Dark Tiger, then went on with Bitch Creek and felt compelled to read Gray Ghost. In three months. I never read three books by the same writer in three months, unless they’re a trilogy.

These three books are the beginning of a crime fiction series and reading them in the right order would be reading Bitch Creek first, then Gray Ghost and finally Dark Tiger.

Set in Maine, the recurring character is Stoney Calhoun, a fly-fishing guide / “amateur” sleuth. Calhoun is in his late thirties and five years before the action of Bitch Creek, he lost his memory in a lightning strike. He woke up in a hospital with no memories. He doesn’t know anything about his past. He assumes that he used to work for the government since they gave him a hefty sum after his accident, but they never told him what he used to work on. He has no clue about his personal life either, just that heading to Maine and settling in an isolated cabin in a rural area felt right. He now works at a fishing equipment store, takes clients to fishing trips and makes fishing flies for the store to sell. He’s involved with the store owner, Kate Balaban. However, their relationship poisoned by guilt since Kate’s husband, Walter, is slowly dying in a nursing home. Walter is aware and OK with Stoney and Kate’s relationship but it’s not easy anyway.

In Bitch Creek, Tapply sets up the décor and the characters for his new series. We get acquainted with Maine, Stoney, his dog Ralph – named after Ralph Waldo Emerson – and Kate. Calhoun is a competent fly-fishing guide and he loves his quiet life in his cabin, with his dog and Kate. He gets the occasional visit from a mystery man who ensures that he has not regained any memories.

When his best friend Lyle is murdered during a fishing assignment that he filled in for Calhoun, Stoney starts poking around and investigating. He discovers that he has buried knowledge of police work, he knows what to do and not do, he has muscle memory for fights. He is a great help for the local sheriff who investigates the murder.

In Gray Ghost, Stoney is out on the water in Casco Bay with a client when they discover a dead body on one of the bay’s island. He’s roped into participating to the investigation again, officially seconding sheriff Dickman. Forgotten skills resurface again, giving him pieces of his past.

In Dark Tiger, a government operative was found dead in the north of Maine at Loon Lake. The mysterious visitor bullies him into taking a position as a fishing guide at Loon Lake and investigate the death of their agent.

I loved the Calhoun series. Honestly, I’ve never been fishing in my life and I don’t see myself doing it any time soon. I’m urban, I work as a corporate executive. As my work life turned into an out-of-control high-speed train, I felt drawn to Tapply’s books and that probably explains why I read the three in three months. Tapply was a New Englander and passionate about fishing. He knows what he’s writing about and the reader can feel it. Bitch Creek is where Stoney’ cabin is set, Dark Tiger and Gray Ghost are fly-fishing baits.

Tapply has an intimate knowledge of fishing trips and of the New England countryside. As a European, I was sometimes disoriented by the names of the cities in Maine. Dublin, Madrid,  Portland don’t conjure up images of rural Maine. Tapply gives the right amount of descriptions in his books, frequent enough to take you there and learn about the landscape and the history but not too long and too erudite to bore or lose you on the way. He took me there with his words, like Craig Johnson takes you to Absaroka country in Wyoming.

Being with Calhoun in Maine was so far away from my daily life that it provided an easy and immediate escape. It soothed me. Calhoun is a very likeable character who lives a slow life, takes time to enjoy the creek around his house, spends his time in quiet places where he can catch fish. He doesn’t fish for catching preys, photograph them and brag about the size of the fish he caught. He fishes as a communion with nature. I enjoyed visiting him and witness his touching and humorous relationship with his dog and his on-and-off and yet deep relationship with Kate. (I think dog lovers will enjoy these books too.) Stoney feels real. He’s a placid, reasonable man who enjoys his solitude, a few genuine relationships in his life and tries to live a tranquil down-to-earth life. I guess he allowed me to hop off the high-speed train for a few hours.

I’m sad about Tapply’s untimely death in 2009. There will be no more episode to this series and no Calhoun comfort read for me.

As usual, the Gallmeister books have gorgeous covers and outstanding translations. I’m repeating myself I know, but what can I say, it’s a repeating performance on their side. Not surprisingly, I much prefer the Gallmeister covers to the American ones. The Gallmeister illustrations show both the crime setting and the fishing theme of the series and the American ones give off a creepy vibe that I didn’t feel in the books, even if the crimes were horrible.

I’ve seen that Tapply had written another series, the Brady Coyne mysteries. Has anyone read it? Is it worth exploring too?

  1. June 16, 2019 at 10:51 am

    I’ve listened to a couple of Craig Johnsons, he makes Wyoming feel like home. Despite the mountains, the pine trees and the snow, it’s still ‘outback’ country. So if Tapply is that good then that is praise indeed – though I don’t generally like amnesia as a plot device.

    Time on my hands. I’ve logged onto the WA State Library catalogue for all local libraries. Tapply is there, lots of titles. I can see Death at Charity’s Point on Brilliance Audio, I might start there.

    Like

    • June 16, 2019 at 10:58 am

      Craig Johnson is brilliant, isn’t he? And he’s nice to his readers, I’ve met him twice at Quais du Polar.
      I agree with you Wymoning is a different kind of outback but it’s the same raw relationship with nature.

      Death at Charity’s Point is the first installment of the Brady Coyne mysteries and it’s set in Boston. I’m not sure it has the same atmosphere as the Calhoun series.

      Like

  2. June 16, 2019 at 11:59 am

    I’ve never heard of him and think fishing is the most boring thing in the world… and yet you manage to tempt me!

    Like

    • June 16, 2019 at 12:26 pm

      I’ve never been attracted to fishing either but I loved these books.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. June 20, 2019 at 2:14 am

    I’s good to know that you enjoyed these in spite of not being attracted to fishing. Sometimes when books have certain settings (thinking football here for some reason), it’s almost a requirement that you enjoy the subject. I just finished one built (partly) around cricket and I think i would have understood a bit more if I understood cricket.

    Like

    • June 20, 2019 at 8:22 pm

      Yes, it’s weird that I actually liked it. It’s probably because there are enough explanations to understand and not too many details.
      I think you’d like Calhoun’s relationship with his dog.

      Like

  4. Vishy
    July 1, 2019 at 7:41 pm

    This series looks quite fascinating, Emma! It is sad that the author is no more. Does Calhoun find out the truth behind his past? His story makes me remember the story of another amnesiac, Jason Bourne. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Like

    • July 1, 2019 at 10:07 pm

      This is a series and with the writer’s untimely death, we don’t know if Calhoun finally learns about his past. I suspect that bits would have been spread in the novels until the series ended.
      Alas, it ended after three books.

      Like

      • Vishy
        July 1, 2019 at 11:33 pm

        It is so sad, Emma. But thanks so much for writing about this series. I want to read it now.

        Like

        • July 3, 2019 at 6:17 am

          I know, I wish he had time to write other books too.

          Like

  1. June 23, 2019 at 9:50 pm

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