Hiram Woolley and Michael are back in The Jupiter Knife (2021), a follow-up to The Cunning Man. (Each novel can stand-alone so it’s not necessary to read The Cunning Man first, but I think you’ll enjoy The Jupiter Knife a little more if you do).
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Cunning Man (first in THE CUNNING MAN series) when I read it a couple of years ago. These stories are set in Utah during the Great Depression. What I liked best was the heart-warming relationship between Hiram, a middle-aged beet farmer with some magical skills, and his adopted son Michael, a bright well-read young man with Navajo heritage. Hiram is a bit of a loner, perhaps because his LDS church forbids the magic he uses. Michael doesn’t believe in Hiram’s religion and, at first, doesn’t believe in his magic, either, but the two men love and esteem each other and serve as a beautiful model of how to respectfully disagree and gently persuade on important issues.
The Jupiter Knife takes place a few months after the events of The Cunning Man. In the desert, Hiram and Michael meet the ghost of a boy who disappeared. Michael has a hard time believing in ghosts – he wants a scientific explanation – but in this case even Michael is forced to admit that the evidence for the supernatural seems pretty clear. So the men set out to discover who the boy was, how he died, and what he needs to be laid to rest.
During their investigation, father and son encounter stunning Utah scenery, multiple dead bodies, a geologist named Mr. Rock, several shapeshifters, and a seductive widow who begins to occupy Hiram’s thoughts. And what seemed at first to be a simple murder mystery turns into something much stranger and much more dangerous.
Hiram and Michael will solve the crime, of course, but readers may notice that Butler and Ritchey have left us with another mystery. When Hiram talks about his sad family history, he mentions that he doesn’t know what happened to his mother. I hope this is some foreshadowing and that we’ll get to explore this explore this mystery in a future volume. I’m also interested in what becomes of Michael, a young man who now wants to be both a scientist and a cunning man.