In Tom Bredehoft’s new mystery novel Foote, the main character, Big Jim Foote, harbors a secret as legendary as his name: that he is indeed a Bigfoot. But this is not the only secret being kept in the community of Morgantown, West Virginia. Soon enough, Big Jim finds himself neck deep in two murder investigations. Family, folklore, and mountain folk culture all play starring roles in this cryptozoological conundrum that delights and entertains at every twist of the trail.
Bredehoft begins the novel with: “It’s a little-known fact that a small, but significant, community of bigfoot live, more or less in the open, in and around Morgantown, West Virginia.” This opening introduces readers to a wonderfully quirky atmosphere around the main town, which persists throughout the novel.
Spanning two weeks, Big Jim encounters a rolling cast of characters, starting with a young girl named Emily Smart, daughter of missing surveyor, Diane Smart. After agreeing to her case, Big Jim goes to work security at the local Ramps festival for the weekend. Ramps are, as Big Jim describes them, “wild leeks, but they have a flavor closer to fresh garlic, but spicier, somehow.” At the Ramps Festival we’re introduced to more mainstay characters, such as the Lovingoods (Sut, Bill, and Mary), Seth, Darlene Jones, and Mike Merrill. Lies and secrets spread faster than the fried ramps, however, and it’s not long until the stench of foul play emanates from the Airstream grounds — and everyone is a suspect. Yet somehow, this is only the beginning.
Foote is a book of parallels. Most often these parallels are drawn between humans and Bigfoot, as Big Jim points out: “A human, in this situation, might have some clue, some idea, about what was going through his mind, or his heart, but I felt lost.” Yet, sometimes these parallels are built right into the scaffolds which uphold the story, such as the homesteading nature of the Lovingoods in their holler, neighboring the Bigfoot Homeland; how the old mountain culture within the Lovingood clan and the Homeland are so alike, and both clash with the new, and at times corrosive, culture of Morgantown. There are smaller parallels, especially in atmosphere, of the trees “leafing out” on the rail-trails Big Jim frequents, versus the gentrified downtown area where his business sits.
Often in Foote, humans and Bigfoot are drawn together and compared, whether it be a similarity in living situation or sharing an emotion, as Big Jim says: “Hope is a strange, strange thing, but it seemed to be something bigfoot and humans shared.” Bigfoot and humans, here, are more alike than either realizes. Interestingly, with Big Jim narrating, a lot of quirks of human nature are shown, some that many humans don’t even fully understand, like body language or unspoken social rules. It’s as if through the eyes of another, we’re allowed to look at ourselves in a mirror and discover a completely different reflection.
The originality of Bigfoot culture within Foote will likely be a favorite with readers. One doesn’t have to be a Bigfoot fanatic to appreciate learning key characteristics about Bigfoot that Bredehoft so intricately and intentionally crafted, such as Bigfoot’s inability to get drunk, and the careful way Bigfoot social hierarchy works, like the coming-of-age rituals or the mourning of loved ones.
Though rife with fun, Foote can be slow to start and sets about at a meandering pace through the mysteries, leading to the seemingly unintended consequence of the reader solving them before Big Jim does. Luckily, the mysteries continue until the very last line, and in them, Foote retains its signature kooky fun. Overall, it is a quirky good time of a book, one with a delightful flavor of mountain folk mystery.
By Tom Bredehoft
West Virginia University Press
Published August 1st, 2022