Copyright: September, 2010 (Berkeley) 304 pgs
Series: # 15 in the Wind River Mysteries
Sensuality etc.: Occasional swear words
Mystery sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth
Main Character: Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden and Jesuit priest, Father John O'Malley
Setting: Modern day, Arapaho reservation in Wyoming
Obtained book through: Publisher for an honest review
The story opens with the discovery of Ned Windsong shot to death and his recent and surprising fiancée Marcy is the only witness. She identifies two Arapaho troublemakers (Lionel Lookingglass and Dwayne Hawk,) as the killers. Marcy's father is a mega TV Evangelist who hires Vicki to represent his daughter and ensure she doesn't get railroaded as the "outsider". Ned's family clings to the belief that Marcy herself was responsible.
Believeing that Marcy is in danger, Father John offers the mission's guest house for her safe keeping until the Federal agents find Lionel and Dwayne. But Father John starts to suspect Marcy has some deep seated issues. Father John also figures that Lionel and Dwayne were not the brains involved, so there must be a leader who is likely more dangerous yet. Ned's prior girlfriend, Roseanne Birdwoman may be the one who is in immediate danger as she puts together several pieces to the eleborate web of deception where "trust nobody" is a mantra to live by but she has no way of hiding.
Chapters are told from either Vicky, Father John or Roseanne Birdwoman's point of view and this works in showing the reader just enough of the danger that surrounds Ned's death. The killer or killers are still at large and Ned's murder starts to unravel the tale of what he had been trying to untangle himself from. Ned's decision to get his life right and dance the Sun Dance were cut short because what he got involved with wasn't letting him go.
Vicky doesn't have as much of a role in this one, Father John and Roseanne Birdwoman seem to be center stage more often, which worked out fine for the story. The running thread of an undercurrent between Vicky and Father John still shows. I really came to appreciate the character of Father John more in this novel. Father John has been joined at the mission by an elderly and retired Bishop who is a surprisingly welcome addition who I look forward to getting to know better. I couldn't help but feel like taking the character Roseanne into my care, she becomes such a breathing person. Miss Coel expertly reveals her characters in the midst of this tragedy and draws the reader into the web of Ned Birdsong's murder.
He realized he had been hoping there was some mistake, but this was the same house he had come to last year to anoint Ella's father, Albert, before he died. The Windong family had been parishioners at St. Francis Mission longer than he had been here. He had known Ned since he was a kid, brown face and big teeth, playing first base on the Eagles baseball team. Ned had moved to Jackson Hole for a while, but then he'd come hom. He'd stopped by the mission twice, something on his mind each time, Father John thought, but when he tried to ask, Ned had shrugged away the question. He was going to go into the Sun Dance, he said. Donald Little Robe, one of the elders, would sponsor him, be his spiritual grandfather, teach him the prayers and the rituals and help him catch up to the other dancers who had been preparing for most of the year. "I wanna get back to myself," Ned had told him.I felt the plot was well done and the twists and turns kept me on the edge of my seat. The suspense is finely layered like a good Hitchcock thriller. The reveal of the killer(s) is handled well with a good dramatic scene. The wrap up actually leaves the door open for a follow up on this tale with Father John being in danger down the road.
I must thank Miss Coel for her deft handling of the cultural issues that interplay between the mission and the traditional native beliefs. Neither is lessened for the sake of the other but rather an honoring of both spiritual paths is exemplified. Which brings me to the setting - a Native American Reservation. The unique and complex challenges facing reservation life are the backdrop and you come away with a part of your heart touched for this mini-visit. This book took me back to my visit to Wounded Knee and I thank Miss Coel for that.
Miss Coel's writing style is subtle and easy going, drawing the reader in until you feel you are there, truly in the action and you never realized the transition was happening. If you have never read the Wind River Mysteries, this is a good place to start. I think most readers will find themselves addicted in short order and start reading all of the books in the series. I feel Miss Coel has grown along with the series as a first class writer. If you enjoyed Tony Hillerman I think you will equally enjoy Margaret Coel.
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