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Creator / Patrick McManus

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Caricature of McManus by Al Hirschfeld.

Patrick Francis McManus (August 25, 1933 – April 11, 2018) was an American humorist who wrote about outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing. His dry style of humor has invited comparisons to Mark Twain and S. J. Perelman, among others.

For many years McManus contributed comedic essays and short stories to (and served as an "editor-at-large" for) Outdoor Life magazine. Said stories, which have also been reprinted in several book collections, usually focus on his misadventures in the outdoors or recount highly-fictionalized anecdotes from his youth, which was mostly spent in the small town of Sandpoint (aka "Blight"), Idaho.

After the Turn of the Millennium, he turned to writing a series of comedic mystery novels set in an even more fictionalized modern-day Blight starring County Sheriff Bo Tully and a supporting cast of oddballs, with Tully's elderly father essentially being an Author Avatar. The sixth and last of these was published in 2014, after which McManus announced his retirement from writing and public life. He died in 2018 at the age of 84.

His work contains examples of:

  • Action Prologue: The fifth Bo Tully book opens with Bo and Deputies Brian Pugh and Ernie Thorpe creeping through the snow-covered mountains with their rifles in search for a bank robber who fled up there, only for the first man they come across to be gunned down by an unseen rifleman (in a case of You Have Outlived Your Usefulness) who then escapes.
  • Agony of the Feet: Discussed in one of his stories, commenting on the somewhat magical propensity of already-injured toes to attract further damage.
  • The Alleged Car: the Mountain Car, affectionately named after his high school English teacher, Mrs. Peabody.
  • Always Gets His Man: Sneed, the local game warden, seems to be aware of every hunting and fishing violation that ever occurs, and is always there to issue a citation.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: After swerving to avoid running over a skunk:
    "My goodness! What would you have done if you'd hit that skunk with the car?"
    "The only thing to do," I said, "I'd have stopped and buried it in the ditch. I might have buried the skunk while I was at it."
  • Ambiguously Gay: Agatha and Bernice in The Double-Jack Mystery are two single old women who live together, but they call Bo handsome (albeit possibly in a platonic sense).
  • Apron Matron: Pat's mother and grandmother in his childhood stories.
  • Batman Gambit: In one story, Rancid actually pulls off one of these against Sneed and the local judge, getting them to cook a poached goose for him for Christmas dinner.
  • Big Brother Bully: His older sister Patricia, aka "The Troll", who was also something of a pint-sized Genius Bruiser.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: In the third Bo Tully book, Lucas Kincaid breaks out of jail and goes after Bo. However his quest for revenge is more of a subplot as Bo investigates another, decades old murder. He and Kincaid never interact face to face throughout the novel and Kincaid is tracked down and killed off-screen by Deputy Pugh barely halfway into the book, although Bo doesn't find this out until the final chapter.
  • Blatant Lies: See below under Self-Deprecation.
  • Blood Oath: Parodied in a story about his childhood adventures with his pal Crazy Eddie Muldoon; the duo always talks about sealing their (not terribly vital) secrets with blood oaths, but since that would involve, you know, cutting yourself, they only do it when one of them accidentally damages himself while playing, and they "share" the blood.
  • Brick Joke: His articles often end with one of these. A typical example is an article where he "markets" his useful outdoor inventions, one of which is an Automatic Fish-Scaler, which works by hypnotizing your spouse into loving to scale fish. At the end of the article, it's revealed his wife Bun used it on him to make him clean the basement.
  • Bungling Inventor: Crazy Eddie Muldoon is a kid version of this.
  • Cabin Fever: Wrote a short story discussing this malady, along with its lesser-known variations Villa Fever (think a mild case of sniffles) and Two-Man-Tent Fever (think Ebola).
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the mystery novel Avalanche, Grady the lodge handyman chews sunflower seeds to help himself stop smoking. Some of those seeds are later found at a crime scene with his DNA on them.
  • Christmas Episode: Nearly every one of his books includes a Christmas-themed story.
  • Cool Uncle: His Uncle Flynn, a ne'er-do-well gambler.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: He speaks on occasion of "Whatcha-Got Stew" which is concocted in hunting camps using whatever random ingredients can be scrounged together at short notice. Just looking at the result isn't particularly safe, much less eating it.
  • The Coroner: Bo's sometimes girlfriend Susan Perkins in the Bo Tully mysteries.
  • Crushing Handshake: In "Scritch's Creek":
    And then Scritch had me by the hand, crunching all my finger and knuckle bones into little splinters, and I supposed that he would then move on and do the same to all the other parts of my body, one piece at a time. But then I realized he was pumping the remains of my hand up and down.
  • Curse Cut Short: In "Meanwhile Back at the B-Western", he comments that all characters in such movies "curse" in the self-interrupting fashion, be they villains or heroes.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Pat himself is often one of these, as are many of the other people in his stories.
  • Demoted to Extra: Occasionally insightful Clueless Deputy Buck Toole probably has more page time than the rest of the deputies combined in the first Bo Tully Mysteries, book but vanishes from the series afterward, aside from appearing in two chapters of the third book.
  • Did the Earth Move for You, Too?: Played with "The Sensuous Angler", in which he tells the tale of his, fishing partnership with a co-worker whose husband Hammer hates fish and fishing. After sneaking over to her apartment for some hot-and-heavy perch-filleting action (and no, that's not a euphemism), Pat asks the question at hand.
    "Yes yes yes yes! And do you know what made it move?"
    "Hammer! He always trips on that last step at the top of the stairs!"
  • Disappeared Dad: Pat's father died when he was a boy, and consequently appears very rarely in his stories. His stepfather Hank turns up fairly often, however.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: Zigzagged in the Bo Tully books. Bo's parents married, divorced, eventually remarried then divorced again.
  • The Ditz: Several inhabitants of Blight, such as Pat's cousin Buck and his best friend Retch Sweeney.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: It took him a while to work out his cast of characters in the tales of his youth; one early story features a friend named "Stupe" Jones who made that one appearance and then disappeared for good, replaced with Crazy Eddie and Retch. Similarly, his first "old man mentor" story used a character named Mr. Hooper, before he came up with the much more memorable and durable Rancid Crabtree.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Discussed in "The Last Flight of Homer Pidgin".
    The idea, as I understood it, was to give a kid a nickname appropriate to his appearance or eccentricity of behavior, the crueler the better. A kid with warts, for example, might be known as 'Toad' or 'Frog' or simply 'Warty'. In the course of time, the warts might vanish, but the nickname would remain, continuing its work of warping the kid's personality and kicking holes in his psyche. Nicknames were fun.
  • Eyebrows Burned Off: In one of his short stories, he talks about losing his eyebrows as a youth while experimenting with black powder.
  • Foul Medicine: He wrote about how once when he and his sister got sick, their mother gave them several spoonfuls of castor oil. It tasted so bad that neither he nor his sister ever got sick again.
  • Frat Bro: In the second Bo Tully book, a quartet of well-off, somewhat rowdy fraternity boys are at the snowed in ski lodge, and Bo hires them to ski a route (while timing them) that he suspects the killer skied in order to try and determine the timeline of the case and to keep them from annoying the lodge owner.
  • Friendly Sniper: Deputy Brian Pugh (a decent marksman and tracker who is the one assigned to go after a Cold Sniper who broke out of jail and is going after Bo in the third mystery book, a job Brian succeeds at). Pap Tully, Mountain Man Hoot and restaurant owner Dave Perkins in the Bo Tully mysteries are also outgoing marksmen.
  • Funetik Aksent: Rancid Crabtree's dialogue is rendered in this fashion.
  • Gilligan Cut: Happens occasionally in his stories. For example, this bit from "Water Spirits":
    "Ha!" I said. "There's no way I'm going to go down that river in a rowboat. A person would have to be out of his mind to take a rowboat down that river!"
    Hours later, Hoov was still in a wretched mood. "Row to the right," he commanded.
    • Another memorable example comes in "Of Fire and the Night", after Pat and Crazy Eddie Muldoon fail to build a campfire and decide instead to try out Eddie's deep-sea diving-outfit.
      "A deep-sea diving-outfit. Sounded good to me."
      "As I lay in bed that night (occasionally coughing up water)..."
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: A story involving an over-zealous Boy Scout leader who not only goes skinny dipping, but does so in extremely cold water. Predictably, the disgruntled scouts steal his clothes. He roars back into camp "wearing" only a bit shrubbery arranged around his privates, latches onto to who he thinks are the culprits and drags them away for a dunking. And of course, two of the troop's den mothers have shown up, and witness all of this.
  • Greasy Spoon: Greasy Gert's Gas 'n' Grub, a truck stop that appears in some of his tales.
  • Hates Baths: Rancid Crabtree, the mountain man who appears in stories about his childhood, had a theory that warm soapy water could make holes in a man's protective crust and consequently refused to bathe under any but the most dire of circumstances. Pat thought this was great advice, but his mother refused to let him practice it.
  • Henpecked Husband: He often jokingly depicts himself as one of these.
  • Heroic Dog: Averted with Pat's childhood dog, Strange, who was cowardly, slovenly and shifty in the extreme. In one story he's even chased up a tree by a cat.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Henry P. Grogan's War Surplus.
  • Horrible Camping Trip: Several examples over the years, one of the more memorable being "the Big Trip" he did as a youth through the mountains with a friend who was fictionalized as Retch Sweeny; they ended up with nothing to eat but instant chicken-noodle mix, and suffered through a midnight lightning strike.
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: "Rancid" is probably not the name its owner was given at birth.
  • Lame Comeback: "I, The Hunted" includes this exchange from his childhood:
    "We'll see about that, you puny little rat!" Skragg snarled.
    "Yeah, and you got dandruff!" I retorted. I made a mental note to work on my repertoire of insults. Dandruff, for pity's sake.
  • Laxative Prank: In "The Fly" Pat tells of working as a night janitor in college, and the steps that the department secretaries took to keep the janitors from pilfering their desk goodies:
    "A secretary over in Sociology loaded a massive charge of chocolate-flavored laxative into a choice morsel and almost wiped out Charlie Fisk."
    "That's terrible," I said.
    "Yeah. And poor Charlie wasn't even the one who ate it. He was just an innocent bystander."
  • Lethal Chef:
    • Important hunting-camp tip: never ever eat the green hash.
    • Also mentioned in the same narrative as Green Hash is Whatcha-Got Stew, a concoction which is always improvised on the spot and composed of whatever foodstuffs the campers have in their possession, regardless of whether or not said foodstuffs were ever intended to be used together. Instructions for preparation include not staring directly into the pot.
    • Another time, he writes about growing up in a household headed by his hard, fearless, super-competent mother, commenting that the only thing she couldn't bend to her will was food. He learned to "scrape off the burnt parts".
  • Look Behind You: Reminisces about this trick's prevalence in the Westerns of his childhood in "Meanwhile Back at the B-Western".
  • Lying Finger Cross: In "At Loose Ends", he relates an instance where his childhood friend Crazy Eddie Muldoon was made to uncross his fingers when forced into a promise, so he crossed his toes instead.
  • Mountain Man: His childhood mentor, Rancid Crabtree, who never bathed, was severely allergic to work, and fulfilled his modest needs by running a trapline in the woods.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: On a fishing trip in Brazil, Pat tried to warn his guide that there was an alligator on the riverbank that the guide was about to pilot the boat under by shouting "Sopa de laranja por favor!" which he only later learned was Portuguese for "orange soup, please."
  • Narrative Profanity Filter:
    • "Bleeping bleep of a bleep!"
    • One of his hunting/fishing/camping companions dislikes another and insists on referring to him by a variety of "crude anatomical names". Throughout the rest of the story, the character in question keeps addressing the other as "you kneecap", "that elbow", etc.
    • Another story describes an instance when he and his fishing companion Retch Sweeney decide to go skinny-dipping in a mountain stream that proves to be ice-cold. The two emerge from the water just as a small group of mushroom enthusiasts come walking past, and Pat expresses his relief that "a particularly bad twelve-letter word had frozen on Retch's lower lip and didn't thaw out until we were in the car driving home."
  • Native American Casino: In the Bo Tully books, restaurant owner Dave Perkins claims to be part-Native American in order to get permission to start a legal casino, although no one believes him.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: He writes about his various childhood and teenaged adventures in Blight, Idaho, which is a stand-in for his real-life hometown Sandpoint.
  • No Sense of Direction: McManus himself; he invented the Modified Stationary Panic, which helps keep you from getting even more lost.
  • Nostalgia Filter: A lot of his stories are deliberately romanticized stuff about his early life.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: McManus sometimes depicts himself in his stories as not being terribly bright, especially as a kid in school.
  • Occam's Razor: When a suspect in one of Bo Tully's cases claim about "Convergences" of facts being responsible for making him look bad Bo belatedly thinks of this response a couple chapters later;
    Bo: Sometimes there's a good reason all signs converge on a particular individual - he's guilty.
  • The Omnipresent: Sneed, the game warden, is implied to have these abilities because of his tendency to instantly materialize wherever a hunting or fishing violation is occurring.
    Another time three men poached a deer close to the bottom of a rocky gorge and waited until after dark to sneak it up to their car parked on a road a half-mile up the mountain. The going was rough, and as they fought their way upward over logs and rocks and through brush, one of the poachers plopped down on the ground for a rest and gasped, "Man, this is hard! It's a good thing there's four of us to drag this here deer, 'cause otherwise I don't think we'd make it."
    One of the other poachers looked around, counting heads in the darkness. "Ain't s'posed to be but three of us draggin' this deer," he said, nervously.
    "Ain't s'posed to be nobody draggin' it!" Sneed said.
  • The Other Rainforest: McManus lived all his life in the Pacific Northwest, which naturally served as the setting for his works, though it should be noted that no part of northern Idaho is in any way a rainforest.
  • The Pig-Pen: Rancid Crabtree, who normally bathed only on leap years, and whose smell could "drive ticks off a dead badger".
  • Passing Judgment: He comments in one of his stories that if you're hopelessly lost in the wilderness, the surest way to be rescued is to do something incredibly embarrassing and/or take off all your clothes. People will be drawn to your location like a magnet.
  • Playing Doctor: He recounts the time as a kid that he got invited over by his neighbor Olga Bonemarrow to "play doctor"; it turned out the girl was referring to a mindnumbingly dull medical-themed board game.
  • Promotion to Parent: Subverted in one short story where Patrick notes:
    My father had died when I was six, forgetting to leave word that I was to be in charge of the family from then on. So my mother stepped into the role of general, with Gram and the Troll as her next in command, respectively.
  • Quick Nip: The narrator's hunting companions are very fond of this trope, to the point that whoever is carrying the hip flask (and shares its contents) gets to be in charge.
  • Rambling Old Man Monologue: He displays an appreciation for these over the years, and eventually starts indulging in them himself.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: In The Huckleberry Murders, local woman Madge Poulsen wants Bo to arrest her ex-husband's ranch foreman after accusing him of murdering and robbing her ex-husband after he disappears, while the foreman claims her ex-husband is just on a long vacation. It turns out that he really is on vacation, but that the foreman has been cashing in/stealing his social security checks, and is involved in the murder of several local marijuana growers he'd hired because You Have Outlived Your Usefulness.
  • Roguish Poacher: Affable swamp dweller Poke in the fourth Bo Tully book.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Several appear in the Bo Tully books.
    • Dave Perkins is the go-to tracker the sheriffs department hires whenever they need to trace the movements of a victim or killer through the woods.
    • Lucas Kincaid is a villainous version (just prior to the beginning of the first book he tracked down a fleeing rival criminal through the dark).
    • Brian Pugh might also count considering how well he does when Bo sends him after Lucas.
  • The Scream: From "How to Get Started in Bass Fishing":
    He then used the air in his lungs to power a long, quavering scream of anguish that echoed up and down the lake, and for miles away fishermen said to each other, "Smokey Joe must have lost a trophy bass he thought was a log."
  • Seemingly Profound Fool: He details his development of the technique of smoking a pipe and looking either "Thoughtful" or "Bemused" in order to hide his ignorance. This combination causes people to think he is doing some serious intellectual pondering.
  • Self-Deprecation: A Running Gag in his writing is his own inability to successfully hunt or fish for pretty much anything.
    • From an essay in his book The Grasshopper Trap in which he describes a portable "fishing computer" he has invented:
      ...I have based the program on my own vast knowledge of fishing. In effect, it will be just as if the fisherman had me at his side, offering expert advice. As soon as I can figure out why the computer keeps telling outrageous lies and reminiscing about the old days, I'll get it patented.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The title of his second story-collection, They Shoot Canoes, Don't They?, is a reference to They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. And what's more, that book's original cover illustration is also a homage, to the famous Bill Mauldin cartoon of a WWII soldier mercy-shooting his defunct Jeep.
    • McManus was also a fan of Ernest Hemingway, and wrote a couple of pieces that were homages/parodies of the latter man's writing style.
  • Siblings in Crime: Lem and Lister Scragg are constant co-felons in the first Bo Tully book.
  • Slip into Something More Comfortable: At the start of the previously-mentioned fish-filleting session in "The Sensuous Angler", the woman gets more comfortable by putting on some jeans and a bulky stained sweater.
  • Smelly Skunk:
    • In one story, Pat and his childhood pal Crazy Eddie Muldoon accidentally catch a skunk in the pit they have dug. Eddie's father falls in the pit and gets a full dose of spray.
    • In another story he describes a fateful encounter between a skunk and his childhood dog, Strange.
  • Stereo Fibbing: They Shoot Canoes, Don't They? includes an account of his youthful encounter with the local game warden:
    "What you boys doin' here?" he demanded finally. We answered simultaneously: "Lookin" for a cow." "Pullin' up thistles." Sneed didn't smile at these contradictory explanations. He was not a fun-loving man.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: In the Bo Tully mysteries, Bryan "Lurch" Proctor the crime scene technician is described as the most homely guy Bo knows but has a drop dead gorgeous girlfriend.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Other characters (most commonly his wife, Bun) will sometimes imply that he's one of these.
  • Unusual Euphemism: His neighbor Al Finley likes to call people by crude anatomical names, like "elbow" or "kneecap".
  • Write Who You Know: He writes about his childhood and adult life in Sandpoint, Idaho, which he rechristened "Blight".