book reviews

Book Review: Bitter Creek

Bitter CreekBitter Creek

by Peter Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Received for review from Amazon Vine

After I finished Tony Hillerman’s 18-book Joe Leaphorn series, stories soaked in the Indian culture of New Mexico, I went in search of another like it. You know, with a down-to-earth character who doesn’t know how to live life except by a rigid moral code in a backwater town. I found CJ Box‘s 16-book (and counting) Joe Pickett series, set in the gorgeous sometimes cold and desolate world of Wyoming, where nature is not only a setting, but a character, plot point, and the motivation for huge chunks of the action. Truly, I figured I’d never find another series like that.

And then Peter Bowen’s Bitter Creek (Open Road 2015) showed up in my Amazon Vine queue, thirteenth in the Gabriel Du Pre series about a Meti fiddler  who develops a local reputation for solving mysteries. In this latest addition to Bowen’s atmospheric series, Gabriel’s girlfriend’s son’s ex-commanding officer hears the voices of long-dead French-Indian murder victims (in a sweat lodge where he is drying out after a drinking binge) who can’t pass on to their final rest until their murders are avenged. DuPre sets out to uncover the truth and bring justice.

An amateur crime solver–doesn’t sound that unique, but a few characteristics set this one apart. First, the story is written in the French prairie patois native to these Montana residents–

“Amalie have my mother she is fifty almost, my mother is some surprise you bet.”

Second, the author effectively slows the world down for readers with his writing voice. Actions are stretched out, time crawls, and readers feels their muscles unwind. Here’s an example:

“The old woman stood up, turned, sat down. She put her feet on the little platform. She nodded to Du Pre…”

Every writer has been lectured about leaving out the unnecessary parts. In this case, ‘break the rules’ is better advice.

Another unusual characteristic of Bowen’s writing style is that the story is written entirely in third person, in DuPre’s point of view. Often, that happens in first person, but most authors use the third person to put readers into many heads, see the world through a wide variety of viewpoints. Not Bowen. It’s all Du Pre, all the time.

And always, there’s a wry humor underpinning thoughts, actions, motivations. Here’s an example:

“When you started out as a cowboy,” Father Van Den Heuvel said, “had the wheel been invented?”

“Saw the first one,” said Booger Tom. “Didn’t think much  of it, tell you the truth. Speeded things up. Most of our troubles today come of speedin’ things up…”

Now that I’m past the sadness of finishing both Tony Hillerman and CJ Box’s series, I’m infatuated with this one. I checked the other twelve from my library (the librarian had to order them from other sites–she was quite patient with me) and just finished them all. Sigh.

Has anyone else read this series? What did yo think?

If you’d like more detail on this eclectic cast of characters, read ‘Of Peter Bowen and Gabriel Du Pre’.

More atmospheric books:

Book Review: Endangered

Book Review: Master and Commander

 Book Review: Death Ex Machina

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

27 thoughts on “Book Review: Bitter Creek

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Zero-Degree Murder | WordDreams...

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    • If losing yourself in another culture interests you (and since I know your background, I know you love that), I’d start with the first in the series. They are short–150-250 pages. Great for airplane reading.


  4. I’m not familiar with this series. I like your infatuation, though. Sometimes I have to get everything by a particular author.

    I use bookmarks for conferences in lieu of business cards, as well as for book signings and adding them in giveaway packages.


  5. Jacqui, what a great review, especially since it highlights an author who breaks the rules. We hear all the time that you can break the rules but it’s tough to find examples of a writer who does it WELL. I’m already fascinated by the patois and am adding this writer to my list.


    • Bowen’s books are short–150-250 pages. I confess to reading one a day. I couldn’t stop myself. It put a serious dent in my writing, but we all must make trade-offs. I just finished the last one, so I can get back to what I SHOULD be doing.


  6. Thank you, Jacqui. Wow, you’ve helped me with this book review more than I can tell you. I’ve been doing the book shopping for Tom and he was an avid fan of Tony Hillerman. Tom read a book a day before he became so ill but he still reads in spurts so I like to have several that he might be interested in. I don’t remember seeing him read CJ Box and Tom almost always told me about each book after he’d finish reading. I also like the review of Bitter Creek so am off to Amazon to add to my order. First I have to check out the 3 books you mentioned at the close.


    • Gabriel–the main character–hates rules. He follows those he must and ignores the rest. But, he is moral, centered, and a humanitarian so that informs all of his decisions.


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