THE COFFIN MAN is the sixteenth book in the Charlie Moon/Daisy Perika series. The books are billed as “A Charlie Moon Mystery” but it often seems as if Daisy is the real star of the show. Charlie and Daisy are each the other’s only living relative. Daisy is irrascible, cranky, underhanded, and committed to sticking her nose in everyone’s business, especially Charlie’s. Charlie is 7 feet tall, slender, gracious, charming, a gentleman in every way, the owner of one of the largest cattle breeding ranches in Colorado, and a part-time tribal investigator for the Ute people. His best friend, Scott Pariss, is the Granite Creek Chief of Police.
Daisy is a shaman, a woman who hears dead people and sees dead people most of the time. She finds this comforting. Daisy is accompanied on her rounds by Sarah Frank, an orphaned nineteen year-old, who has been living on Charlie’s ranch, the Columbine.
It is another teenage girl who gets the story started by disappearing into thin air. Betty Naranjo is sixteen and pregnant. She lives with her mother, Wanda, and she steadfastly refuses to tell anyone the identity of the father of her unborn baby. On the second Friday of the month, Betty tells her mother that she is going into town to meet her counselor. She says she will take the bus and she won’t be gone long. Wanda is somewhat distracted while Betty is telling her mother her plans for the day. Wanda’s boyfriend, Mike Kauffmann, is the local handiman, a man who need never be without work. But Mike likes being without work, and on this particular Friday, Wanda tells Mike she has had enough and wants him out of her house immediately. Mike is not bright but he is bright enough to realize that when Wanda starts waving her gun around, she means serious business. Mike disappears over the horizon and Betty fails to reappear. When Wanda checks with the counselors office she learns that the doctor is never available to patients on the second Friday of the month. Betty has lied to her mother and Wanda has no idea where to look for her.
Charlie and Scott have to deal with a bizarre murder as well. The caretaker is foumd dead on his couch, at first glance peacefully sleeping, but it becomes apparent that this isn’t what it seems. There are signs of digging at one of the graves: was it the plan to dig someone up or was it toss someone down?
It is very difficult to describe a Charlie Moon mystery. These are gentle books with murders that are not described to a degree that might make a reader uncomfortable. There is wit, lines that are laugh-out-loud funny, and characters that are eccentric, odd, and reflect life in the west. Daisy is a shaman who misplaces one of her powers while someone else finds it. Daisy has frequent, profitable discussions with the pitukupf, a tiny creature who lives in the roots of a tree, and who assists Daisy in exchange for pipe tobacco. That only Daisy can see or hear him just proves that her powers are real.
Over the course of the sixteen books in the series, Charlie has aged slowly, the Columbine has become increasingly successful, and Charlie and Scott continue their partnership cleaning up the messes left by the people of Granite Creek. I have read each of the books in the series as it was published and I have enjoyed every one. Anyone who is a fan of Tony Hillerman will find that James Doss offers an equally good series. Doss writes winning stories with characters one wants to meet again and again, except for Daisy maybe. The series does not have to be read in order. Don’t cheat yourself. Try Doss and you will want to go back for more.