Peter Bowen has just published his 14th Du Pré novel, Bitter Creek, where Gabriel Du Pré helps a wounded vet with a spiritual quest seek answers to a historical mystery involving General Pershing and a missing tribe of Métis. Peter Bowen has generously contributed a piece on the place that has most influenced his writing – Montana, where much of his writing takes place, and where Bowen has deep roots.
– Post by Peter Bowen
The Du Pré mysteries come of living in Montana and wanting to write. Writers begin with wanting to write and then they have to find something to write about and it’s best to write about something you know about. I grew up here in Montana and I live here now, and I was never happy anywhere else, so…….
Du Pré is a fictional Métis and he sort of went from shadow to substance in my mind over many years. Since I was interested in Montana’s history from childhood, when Du Pré did become clear enough to speak I thought I would tell the story of the Métis as well, and a great, romantic, and often heartbreaking one it is.
“An editor I worked with for many years said once that the Du Pré books were good novels about Montana that had a mystery on top, like the peanuts on a Tin Roof Sundae.”
The Métis are the Children of the Fur Trade, French and Cree-Chippewa or Plains People, and there are over thirty million descendants of them in North America. In the 19th century they occupied Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and twice rebelled against the British who wanted their lands for white settlement. The Métis lost and many fled down to Montana and the Dakotas for more abuse. A very old story……which Du Pré tells a bit at a time.
An editor I worked with for many years said once that the Du Pré books were good novels about Montana that had a mystery on top, like the peanuts on a Tin Roof Sundae.
The Montana that I knew as a kid and loved so well is gone, pretty much, now, as rural life dies out on the High Plains, victim of economic changes as water becomes more and more valuable. The small towns are going or gone already, the people having left as their livelihoods did.
In the fourteen Du Pré novels I have written about corporations poisoning the land and water, greedy “environmentalists” who want to make the state some sort of theme park, and all of the ructions a changing place stirs up — boomtowns with drugs and murders, and the odd crazies who pop up everywhere.
That’s what’s on top, but more important to me are Du Pré and the people around him, the byplay of a small town’s folks, and my memories of a Montana I knew a long time ago. Some of that still exists, and some will remain, of course, but it does need to be remembered for its lessons, and what those might be are up to those folks who read these books.
So there is Du Pré, who doesn’t say much and doesn’t miss much, with his fiddle and bandsmen, family and friends, in Montana, which is actually a real place.
America is running out of them.
You can find copies of Bitter Creek on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. May is Texas Writer’s Month – look out later in May for posts by Texas mystery writers about how their sense of place and plot intertwine.