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Great reading to be had thanks to Florio

Silver State Post of Deer Lodge, Montana

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By the book

Montana/Dakota book reviews

Gwen Florio is a familiar name to western Montanans. She was a feature writer for the Missoulian for a number of years and has left reporting for the world of fiction. She's great at it.

Her first novel, "Montana," introduces Lola Wicks, a foreign correspondent for an international news organization, who has just been recalled to the states. The office in Kabul was downsized, and she is one of the "downsizees." She's not at all happy about it, and accepts an invitation from a friend in Montana to visit for some kick back time.

As she doesn't have a bank account or a current address, Wicks takes her back pay and accumulated sick leave in cash, which worked best in Afghanistan. She fills her shoes, pockets, bra, etc. with the dough and departs for Big Sky Country.

When Mary Alice doesn't meet her at the airport, and is unreachable by cell, Lola rents a car and drives to Magpie, a small town near the Blackfeet reservation. Mary Alice e-mailed Lola that she was working on an important story, so Lola isn't worried. But, Mary Alice cannot be found.

Lola finally gets directions to Mary Alice's cabin. She's there, alright. Dead. Who did this and why?

Wicks is ready to "get out of Dodge," or rather Magpie. The sheriff won't allow it as Lola found the body and is a potential material witness.

What now? Now Wicks is really mad-solution: take Mary Alice's job at the paper and pursue the mysterious important story Mary Alice had alluded to in their last conversation.

The unraveling of the mystery includes the first Native American to run for Governor-is Johnny Running Wolf who he says he is? Is the handsome rancher, Verle, as cool and interesting as he appears? Then there is the Sheriff-hmmmmm. The politics and intrigue of the community prove as allusive and, ultimately, as dangerous, as her Middle East assignments.

Florio knows the landscape. Her characters are spot on. It is a good write about contemporary Montana and its diversified residents.

Her second novel, "Dakota," finds Lola Wicks still in Magpie, a full time reporter for the paper. She found the plains of northern Montana, its sky scape and its people irresistible The relative quiet of the wind and cold of winter is broken when the body of a young Blackfeet girl is found in a snowbank-murdered. In the early stages of the investigation the Sheriff discovers she has been an "exotic" dancer in the oil patch-more commonly known as The Bakken.

That oil tracking industry in North Dakota has had dramatic effect on Montana.

Wicks ponders the realities of the oil boom on family life and workers who travel back and forth for the high-paying jobs.

One of her co-workers says, "Half of Montana is driving back and forth to Dakota to work. There's nothing new about that."

"But it's different on the rez," Lola says. "People can finally afford to buy things, real things, like furniture and houses."

The dark side of the patch is drug trafficking and prostitution. And, Lola is about to become involved in the grisly truth of the latter. As more young women disappear across the state line to the east, the more intense the investigation into their whereabouts. Lola becomes a primary player in the scenario.

It is an intense and realistic tale of that piece of real estate and the toll it takes on law and order and many of the lives of the men and women who make up its population.

Florio creates characters with humor, depth and individuality. She is a smart writer and has moved from journalism to fiction without missing a beat.

She has been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize and has reported from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.

One looks forward to the publication of "Wyoming," the third novel in the trilogy.

Copyright 2014 Silver State Post, Deer Lodge, Montana. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: September 24, 2014

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