When Dan Dowhal arrived for his Berton House residency eight years ago, he had two novels under his belt and no idea that he would end up moving here, or that it would take him another five years to finish the first draft of the book. He ended up buying the historic Tyrrell House on Seventh Avenue and supplemented his tech-based income (working from home is old news to him) by taking a position at the Dawson Community Library. Dowhal is now the head librarian for the shared facility’s public portion. But back to that residency draft—from first draft to published book was another three years.

Bury Your Horses
by Dan Dowhal
Dundurn
359 pages – $22.99

The combination of the title (Bury Your Horses) and the cover image might seem a bit jarring at first, but it helps to know that Shane “Bronco” Bronkovky is a disgraced NHL enforcer who finds personal salvation while working at a rattlesnake ranch in New Mexico. There are also some horses and a highway driving game.

Getting away from it all on his Ducati 1199 motorbike, not yet sure whether he’s going to be charged in the death of an opposing player he hit too hard, Bronco has an accident on a lonely rural highway and damages his arm. The first person to come along after his spill is a kid who steals his kit bag (wallet, credit cards, cellphone, cash, etc.) and leaves him to the not-so-tender mercies of the gang in the pickup truck that stops next. The crew in that vehicle steals his ride and only just backs off from shooting him.

The next vehicle is driven by a hard-faced woman named Tammy DeWitt. She and her other passenger, a girl, rescue him. DeWitt owns the ranch, which is also a haven for women and girls (and one boy) who have been treated badly. She finds Bronco a doctor and, after some argument, allows him to sleep in a room in her barn until he can recover. Once he gets to a telephone, he has access to enough cash to pay the doctor and some rent until he can reestablish a link to his bank account.

He also begins to reconnect with his father, who lives in the fictional Yukon town of Peel Crossing, where he first developed his love of hockey. In this setting, Bronco realizes how low he has fallen and begins the slow process of rebuilding his life. There are a number of adventures along the way, but this is the heart of the story.

Dowhal (say “towel”) says the book is something of a hockey western. He has a personal love of the game, which he plays here, and still does some tech work for the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. It was while conducting research there that he learned about how popular hockey is in New Mexico. That’s also where he learned about rattlesnake ranching. These ideas rattled around in his head for a while and came with him when he was granted a two month fill-in at Berton House after another resident had to leave due to illness.
The book had its first launch at the Hockey Hall of Fame early in 2020 and a local launch at the Alchemy Café in Dawson, just before COVID-19 shut down most public events.

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