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Terms such as Wet flys, dry flys, Hex nymphs or match the hatch appear as a foreign language to defense attorney Burr Lafayette. However, to keep his client out of prison, he must learn the terminology and lifestyle of fly fishers to navigate some overwhelming evidence.
“The Gray Drake” is written by author Charles Cutter, a pseudonym for East Lansing attorney R. Charles McLarvy, and is the third legal thriller featuring down-on-his-heels attorney Burr Lafayette. The third installation is a complex, engaging and suspenseful mystery centered on fly fishing on the legendary Au Sable River.
Readers will warm up to Burr, who Cutter calls “the idiot savant of law,” while the rest of his life is in total disarray. Burr would rather fish for a good Bordeaux than a trout while relaxing on his leaky sailboat aptly named “Spindrift.”
The plot begins when noted fishing guide, Quinn Shepherd, is found dead from an apparent drowning accident, but then new evidence is discovered pointing to his widow, Lizzie, as the murderer.
Although Cutter calls himself an “adequate, not accomplished” fly fisher, he didn’t leave anything to chance in capturing the nuances of the cult-like sport.
The book revolves around the Gray Drake, a fishing lodge much like the historic North Branch Outing Club and the Gates Au Sable Lodge, which have been attracting fly fishing enthusiasts from around the world for more than 100 years. The likes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford wet a fly in the nearby waters while staying at the North Branch.
In order to immerse himself in the scene of the fictious crime, Cutter hired a guide from the Gates Lodge who floated the South Branch of the Au Sable with him in an Au Sable river boat.
“At first, the guide was wondering why I didn’t have any fly fishing gear,” Cutter said. “He looked at me like I was crazy when I told him I was writing a book. I took pictures and asked questions.”
Cutter said he named a character in the book after the guide. During the boat ride, he analyzed how the boat maneuvered.
“The Au Sable boat is long and skinny, has limited utility and is fine as long as you go downstream. It is nearly impossible to turn around,” Cutter said. “It also does not have traditional anchor which would get caught in fallen trees. Instead, it uses a heavy chain that is dropped overboard.”
Once Cutter saw that chain, he knew it would feature prominently in his new mystery. He also stayed at two lodges on the Au Sable so he could capture lodge life. He said the Gray Drake is “loosely based” on the North Branch Outing Club.
There are several real-life sites in the book, such as Burr’s office, which is in the Masonic Temple in East Lansing — not far from the Small Planet restaurant. While in Grayling, characters take repast in the nearby Spikes Keg of Nails while the trial for Burr’s client is underway.
All three of Cutter’s Burr- books “Fool’s Island,” “Pink Pony” and “Gray Drake” take place in the natural world of Michigan.
“We have so much water and variety of resources,” he said.
Cutter said his next book involves the Sleeping Bear Dunes and the controversial federal condemnation procedures that took place in the ’80s.
To gauge the book’s accuracy, Cutter also ran a manuscript by four fly fishing friends.
Cutter also plants the phrase “aluminum hatch” in the book. Commonly used by fly fishers on the Au Sable, the word describes the onslaught of drunk revelers in canoes and inner tubes that disturb the fish.
“Officials are doing a better job of policing the drunks,” he said. Cutter likes to pay attention to local details and even argued with an editor to keep the word “euchered” in his latest novel.
He added that the book has been well-received by the fly fishing community, and is being sold at fly fishing shops across the state.
For more information, visit the author’s website at www.charlescutter.com/.