by Michael Wells
Review by Pat Black
I come from the city, but I’m a country boy at heart. There are few fully-clothed activities I enjoy more than getting away from the grey and into the green.
If the only fresh air you desire is from the air con, then it may be difficult to explain what it is I enjoy so much about the wilder places. That moment when the trees close in. When the only sound you can hear is the birds and the stirring branches. The blast of a gale as you stand on top of the mountain on a clear day.
Or slapping Yogi’s hand as it creeps towards your pickernick basket.
I Shot Bigfootand Other Stories has these sentiments close to its heart, although it is chiefly a work about cryptozoology. The author, Michael Wells, hails from Valley County, Idaho, where most of these stories are set. His own private Idaho concerns many of the myths and legends which have grown up around the wilderness and forest trails close to his home and heart, and the bizarre, often dangerous creatures they conjure.
The biggest legend of all, not to mention the biggest sneaker size, comes from the chap referenced in the title story. Sasquatch, to give him his Sunday name, doesn’t quite appear in “I Shot Bigfoot”, but his footprints are all over it. This is a smart courtroom drama looking at a famous writer who guns down a strange creature from his porch one night. The author in the story has been charged with unlawfully killing a grizzly bear, an endangered creature. But he contends that what he killed wasn’t a bear at all – and that the authorities know this all too well.
Wells is an award-winning journalist in Idaho, and this story showcases an often unremarked skill in public life – that of the court reporter. “I Shot Bigfoot” bears witness to the to-and-fro drama of cross-examination involving the prosecution and defence. On top of this, we also have the nuances common to most big court cases. Implication and suggestion are powerful tools during exchanges in court, gaps between statements which give the jury – and the reader – room to play around in. Corruption among officialdom, something a journalist is naturally attuned to (or should be), is also explored.
“The Dog Man of Poverty Flats” examines a strange contagion breaking out amid remote woodland, with the police and other authorities battling to contain an escalating crisis. I liked the rapid-fire approach to this tale and the swift action taken by shadowy figures to halt the outbreak which turns people into howly, hairy things during the full moon.
“Bad Off” is a survival tale with a twist. The narrator has a day he won’t forget in a hurry, no matter how much he wants to, when he visits a friend after being unceremoniously fired from his job. The friend has a two-seater plane and invites the narrator on a journey by air to a remote spot where they can go fishing and forget their troubles. But if there’s one thing my time spent working in the news tells me, it’s that these tiny little planes have a nasty habit of crashing. So it proves here. The two men survive a terrifying plunge, with scant provisions and terrible injuries, in the middle of a vast forest miles from anywhere.
And they’re not alone.
Let’s do that again, this time in italics. And they’re not alone.
By the time “Who Will Stand Up For The Hermit?” begins, it’s clear that the stories are all interconnected, however slightly. In this, we return to the story of Jack Lafayette, the man who shot Bigfoot (allegedly), as he decides to turn hero and ride to the rescue of a deaf woman who’s totally unaware of the huge forest fire making its way to her door.
“Murder at the Tubs” begins with a lovely piece of misdirection, but fleshes out the characters we’ve met before in subtle, tongue-in-cheek ways. Jack the novelist is taking part in a movie shoot, a retelling of his experiences on the night he blasted Sasquatch. There are not a few laughs on offer here as Jack and the cunningly named cryptozoology monster-hunting team, B.I.G.F.O.O.T, head out into the forest to try and capture some footage of the elusive creature. But vindication of the kind Jack craves is already out there, it seems…
Part Two of the book moves away from this world, if not the location. There is no cryptozoology here, unless you count some insights into that strange organism, the human heart. “Alive” and “The Dish” are primarily concerned with fishing, and how you can get to know people during this pastime. “Alive” wears its heart on its sleeve while giving us some good, lean Hemingway-style prose and descriptions of the land, looking at the lifelong lessons a man learns when he’s a cheeky teenager. “The Dish” looks at three generations of one family as they prospect for trout in a lake. It’s idyllic and haunting, and also touches on elements of family hierarchy and sibling rivalry. This latter story is the best in the book, and was as fine a portrait of a place as it is of people.
Last up, “The Promises We Make”, a story in the tradition of Elmore Leonard’s early western tales as a white man makes good on a pledge to return a Native American friend’s body to the land of his fathers in 1877. It’s a modern day parable as well as an exciting adventure story.
I Shot Bigfoot is big on thrills, but it’s also a love letter of a kind to the land, the clear water that runs through it and the creatures living there. If they should include a hairy critter with a size 25 shoe, well, don’t be too hasty to take aim at it. There are bigger monsters lurking in the courts, after all…
Read the author interview, here.