This week the review is of the newest book in the Wind River Reservation Mysteries. I had reviewed the prior book in the series, The Spider's Web (click here) and interviewed the author (click here). This addition to the series features artifacts from Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and specifically Chief Black Heart's ancestral regalia he wore in the shows. This is a fascinating slice of America's history integrated a murder mystery.
Copyright: Sept 2012 (Berkley) 304 pgs
Series: 16th in Wind River Mysteries
Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth
Main Characters: Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden and Jesuit priest, Father John O'Malley
Setting: Modern day, Arapaho reservation in Wyoming
Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review
The reservation is anxiously awaiting the return of the regalia worn by Arapaho Chief Black Heart in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. It had been lost for 120 years until discovered in an ancient vault in Germany where the Wild West Show had performed. Artifact collector Trevor Pratt is donating the history-rich-regalia to the small Arapahoe museum on the reservation. Sadly, thieves strike while the artifacts are enroute. Both Father John and Vicky Holden sense that Trevor Pratt knows more about the heist than he will admit. When they discover Pratt's body after nearly being run off the road by a speeding car leaving the scene, their suspicians are confirmed.
Their investigation uncovers a blood feud between two Arapaho families about the disappearance of the regalia during the Wild West Show tour of Europe. The more they uncover about Pratt and the long-lost regalia, the more danger Father John and Vicky are in. To complicate the situation, Vicky's old flame Adam returns to town wanting to reconcile with her. The long standing feelings between Father John and Vicky are once again ever-present and perhaps about to spill over.
Father John is human and compassionate with the native Americans on the reservation, displaying sensitivity to their issues. Vicky is very much alone and vulnerable in this book. While they are both strong character depictions, the tension because of their "forbidden love" has got to give at some point to maintain reader interest in this subplot much longer. Adam is a character that brings a dissonant chord to the status quo and shakes things up. Adam maybe the catalyst to bring about change, but it isn't realized in this book. Perhaps in the next. Again, a supporting character that is memorable is retired Bishop Harry. I find myself wanting to know about him.
The Wind River Reservation is hauntingly evoked. The beauty and bitter-sweetness of reservation life colors the scenes.
The plot employs a trick, from the first chapter the reader thinks they know who the murderer is, but there are surprising. The culprit isn't who you think it is. There are chapters interspersed that take us back to the Wild West show in Germany and slowly reveals what happened to Chief Black Heart's regalia. Those chapters are fantastic glimpses into the spectacle that was Buffalo Bill's traveling show with hundreds of people recreating the story of the American West. Many times I wanted to stay with that storyline and not revert to the modern murder mystery.
The confrontation with the killer had a good dose of suspense. The wrap up provides answers to the mystery of Chief Black Heart's regalia lost for over a century and hopefully settles the feud. The situation between Father John and Vicky remains open though.
this is another strong entry in the Wind River series with an interesting take on artifact theft. This series may be the single best image booster for Catholic priests around - with its portrayal of Father John struggling to follow his path, while compassionately laying bare the Native American plight on reservations.
Ratings: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list