McMahon, author of the Dr. Carroll Monks series, has established a
reputation as a competent if under-appreciated journeyman writer.
His latest novel meets and exceeds any and all expectations raised
by his previous work.
LONE CREEK is a world removed from the Monks books, trading the
hospital environs of San Francisco for McMahon's home turf of
Montana, and Monks's surgical scrubs for the carpentry tools of one
Hugh Davoren. I suspect that McMahon has much more in common with
Davoren than he does with Monks --- McMahon lives in Montana and,
like Davoren, is a carpenter --- and the apparent similarities
between the two men infuses LONE CREEK with a reality and an
immediacy that is a rarity in works of fiction.
The book begins with Davoren doing carpentry work for Wesley
Balcomb, the new owner of the Pettyjohn Ranch near Helena, Montana.
The ranch holds a mixed bag of memories for Davoren that is all but
swept away when he makes a grisly if accidental discovery on the
ranch property while working. He is then fired and arrested on the
same day, in what appears to be a setup.
Davoren's job termination is the least of his worries, though, as
it quickly becomes clear that Balcomb isn't satisfied with simply
ruining him --- Balcomb wants him dead. Davoren's allies are few,
but one --- Madbird, an Indian carpenter who easily walks away with
the book --- helps Davoren to even the odds, despite being
outnumbered by lawyers, guns and money. Ultimately, however, as
Davoren slowly uncovers the secrets of Balcomb and the Pettyjohn
ranch, he inadvertently unleashes a maelstrom of explosive violence
that can only end one way.
As compelling as Davoren and Madbird are, the real protagonist of
LONE CREEK is Montana itself, brought to vivid, thundering life by
McMahon's prose. Writers, both veteran and fledgling, will often
hold up --- and rightfully so --- the opening paragraph of THE LAST
GOOD KISS by James Crumley as an example of all that good writing
should be. I suspect that the first page of LONE CREEK will be held
in similar high esteem. Read it, and then try to put the book down,
even for a few minutes. The momentum of its words sweeps you along,
as Davoren's first-person account slices in and out of his life,
past and present, and we learn not only of his rough edges but also
how they got there.
LONE CREEK is most assuredly a keeper --- as intriguing a work of
fiction as you'll read all year.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 30, 2010