Meet James “Big Jim” Foote: longtime Morgantown resident, private investigator, and bigfoot. After decades spent hiding in plain sight as a bigfoot, observing and blending in come naturally to Jim, so working as a P. I. seems the next natural step. In the span of a weekend, Jim finds himself embroiled in two cases: a missing person and a murder. The murder weapon suggests the two crimes are linked and point to several possible suspects including the WVU mascot, the Lovingood family, and Jim’s own clan of bigfoot. Racing to solve the case before the police, Jim has to consider all possible outcomes… including concealing evidence to keep the bigfoot Homeland a secret.
Refreshingly original, Tom Bredehoft’s Foote is a delightful blend of fantasy and crime noir. Placing a bigfoot at the heart of a murder mystery keeps Foote from falling into tired storylines of the crime/mystery genre. “Big Jim” Foote is not your typical P.I., after all: aside from having to keep his bigfoot heritage under wraps, Jim doesn’t fully understand humans (despite taking an anthropology course at WVU). Bigfoot and humans might be more similar than some like to believe, but there are differences, especially when it comes to alliances and emotions. Jim can understand the bonds of family and community, but human emotions like greed, lust, and jealousy? Not so much.
But Jim does understand mountain people and sees little difference between the bigfoot Homeland and the neighboring Lovingood clan: both were “independent, even secretive, ready to lend a helping hand when others were in trouble, but too proud to take that helping hand unless there was no other choice.” Tucked into the wooded hills surrounding the college town, the Lovingoods had since turned in their muskets and moonshine stills for handicrafts, ramps, and—Jim suspects—painkillers. But snooping around the family may have ramifications for Jim’s own, as the Lovingoods are longtime allies of the bigfoot community. If a Lovingood had a hand in either case, Jim must find a way to prove it to the police without being exposed in turn. And if it was a member of the Homeland, Jim will have to decide where his alliances lie: with his client, a college-aged woman looking for her missing mother, or his community, the bigfoot relatives that rely on Jim to remain undiscovered.
By placing a mythical figure in the center of a real town, Bredehoft is able to explore some of the common themes of West Virginian literature, such as family, place, and the various issues and industries specific the region, while keeping the tone light and often humorous. “Big Jim” is an immediately likable character that values family and home while also considerate of the potential harm that comes from getting too bogged down by “traditional values.” Bredehoft also skillfully sidesteps the stereotypical trope of the private eye falling for a damsel in distress by making Jim more of a father figure to his client than a love interest. It is also interesting how human foibles are seen through the eyes of a character that exists, figuratively and literally, on the fringe of humanity. And as in many fantasy books, Foote’s inclusion of several not-quite-human characters allows the author to explore themes like prejudice, racism (or technically, in this case, “speciesism”), and tradition versus change.
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I learned about this book from a West Virginia University Press brochure in late June, thought “a crime-solving cryptid right here in the Mountain State? Sign me up!” and waited with anticipation for its release in August. When the book finally arrived, I devoured it in two days, staying up into the wee hours of the night to find out whodunit. I have had high hopes for a book before only to have them dashed, but this was not the case with Foote: I was hooked by page two and, after reading it, proceeded to recommend it to everyone in my social circle. Bredehoft brilliantly combines humor (the book is about a bigfoot P.I., after all) and a thoughtful exploration of social issues, all with loveable “Big Jim” Foote at the center.
The first novel of Tom Bredehoft, Foote is immensely “bingeable” at 241 pages and will have readers wanting more adventures with Jim. Unlike some mysteries where crucial information is only revealed at the end, all of Jim’s discoveries and hunches are laid out for the reader as they are discovered, allowing the reader to feel more like a participant than a mere observer. Even after the cases are solved, however, there is one final twist that will keep readers hooked to the very last page.
Published by the West Virginia University Press in August 2022, Foote can be purchased through the press’s website or through major retailers and booksellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million. Foote would make a wonderful book club pick: readers are guaranteed to want to talk about it!
• Raised in Wellsburg, West Virginia, Anna Cipoletti is a proud alumna of Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy, West Liberty University and Kent State University. She received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from West Liberty in 2014 and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from Kent State in 2017. Anna has made a career out of a lifelong love of books and works full-time at Bethany College as a librarian and parttime as a bookseller and book reviewer. She resides in Beech Bottom with her sister and two Siamese cats. A nature enthusiast, Anna often spends her free time visiting one of West Virginia’s many beautiful parks or kayaking along Buffalo Creek.