“Book Review: Big Sky Murder“
Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen
An adventurous historical mystery set in Montana’s gold fields
Life in Pony Gulch, Montana isn’t easy for any newcomer, but it’s an especially rocky road when you’re a bootlegging woman brewing moonshine in prohibition-era America. Delores Bailey is used to eking out a tough living in a man’s world. A disapproving community isn’t enough to run her off.
But when her only friend in town (Pete) is killed, Pony Gulch suddenly feels more threatening. A murderer being on the loose is one thing, but Delores knows that she’s primed to take the fall for this one. As a woman already on the outskirts of law-abiding society and a known associate of Pete’s, the suspicion against her mounts quickly. When the customer that could clear her name refuses to provide an alibi, Delores must decide whether to run or stand her ground.
Skipping town may be the safest option, but Delores is done running from her problems. She’s not going to take the fall for someone else’s crime. And she’s not going to let the murderer get away with killing her friend either. But in a town as small as Pony Gulch, the murderer may be closer than she could have imagined.
Big Sky Murder is the first book in the Moonshiner Mysteries series. For those who have read Decter’s Bootlegger’s Chronicles series, you’ll recognize Delores Bailey as a side character from books two and three. There’s no need to have read previous novels, though; this series stands on its own.
There is so much to rave about in this fantastic novel; I hardly know where to start. The setting, time period, and characters are all wonderful. There are a couple of things the roaring 20s are known for, but Big Sky Murder veers off the beaten track into the lesser explored territory of rural prohibition America. Decter has clearly done her research, not only on historical aspects, but on moonshining, Montana, and human nature. The novel is lush with sensory and historical detail that keeps the world textured.
Big Sky Murder doesn’t scrimp on historical accuracy. The women have ideals in keeping with their times, as do the men. They may push the boundaries a little, but they don’t break them. There are honor codes in place that wouldn’t exist now. Cars are faulty. Phones give out. Accurate little details are dusted through the narrative, bolstering the time and place without slowing the story.
Loner main characters are a dime a dozen in crime novels, but Delores Bailey breaks the usual mold. She’s tough and ornery, but she’s also multi-faceted and self-aware enough to know her flaws. Unlike other novels, Delores’s demeanor is shown as a weakness rather than a strength. Like most people, she doesn’t like to be alone but her past has taught her that trusting others is a dangerous and unrewarding endeavor. As she sets to solving Pete’s murder, though, she realizes that being alone may be just as risky as having people to fall back on.
The mystery aspect of Big Sky Murder is the weakest part of the novel. It’s clear from early on who the killer is, but I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing. While Pete’s murder may launch the story, Delores’s personal journey is the pivot around which the story turns.
Big Sky Murder is a delight on many levels. Historical fiction aficionados will revel in the intricate detail scattered throughout. Montana circa 1927 is a refreshing and fascinating place. But characters are at the forefront here, and Delores’s journey is one that won’t disappoint. At its heart, this novel is a fun, entertaining adventure with some excellent company along the way.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense / Historical Fiction
Print Length: 497 pages
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