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Friday, September 28, 2012

Review - Death Where the Bad Rocks Live

I reviewed the first novel in this series (click here for review.)  Following up on such a successful debut novel is a challenge.  Travel with me to the desolate and atmospheric Badlands of South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation for a Cold Case that is still taking lives.

Author: C. M. Wendelboe

Copyright: September 2012 (Berkley) 394 pgs

Series: 2nd in Spirit Road Mysteries

Sensuality: smattering of crude references and language

Mystery Sub-genre: Western Police Procedural

Main Characters: Lakota FBI Special Agent Manny Tanno

Setting: Modern day, Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

The book picks up with FBI agent Manny Tanno in the middle of the South Dakota Badlands examining three recently discovered bodies found in an old 1940's car long forgotten.  The area had once been used for bombing practice in the '40s and it looks like the bodies are from back then.  Initially it looks like the car wondered on the range and a bombing run killer the occupants.  But one of the three bodies is obviously a recent addition to the car, apparently from the late '60s.  It looks more and more like murder, and that means Manny gets the investigation of this very cold case.  Manny quickly finds that he has a political powder keg since the most recent body was college roommates with the newly nominated Supreme Court Justice - Judge High Elk, who doesn't want anything standing in his way for the nomination, especially a cold case.  Then more murders occur to people connected to the case.

Several chapters take you back to the 1940s as you follow Moses Ten Bears, a spiritual leader and reknowed painter, through the events that lead up to his death in a car on the bombing range.  Those chapters break up the flow a little bit, but it makes for an interesting look into the what made Moses so mythical for the tribe.  The reader also sees Manny and tribal cop Willie Looks Twice struggle with some personal issues.  Manny's childhood menace is still chief of the Tribal police, and still taunts Manny. 

The characters are all nicely drawn. We get to know the tribal medical examiner Precious, nicknamed Pee Pee, whose biggest pleasure in life is outbidding the Chief for Elvis memorabilia.  The Chief of Tribal Police also hires his niece as a tribal cop, who brings her own drama into the picture.

The setting is the eerie and otherworldly Badlands for most of the story.  There is one particular stand-out scene where Manny is playing a deadly cat and mouse dance, in the middle of a storm, in the dark, and in the Badlands.  It will stay in my memory for a while I think.

The plot takes a winding route as the investigation proceeds.  It has some spots that slow a little too much, and the Chief's niece is a distracting sidestory.  I didn't like that particular character, and her purpose wasn't clear even upon completion.  The confrontation with the killer had some tense moments while being believable.

As the second entry in the series, it is setting a high bar with intricate story telling.  FBI Agent Manny Tanno makes a fine troubled hero dealing with life at 40 something as he is discovering his culture and himself.

Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 

Here is a short video of the Badlands that provides an excellent feel for the terrain where much of the story takes place.

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