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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review - Death Along the Spirit Road

I enjoy Native American (a.k.a Western) mystery novels like Margaret Coel writes and the late Tony Hillerman made so popular. Today I review a new author on the Native American Mystery scene. We go to the Pine Ridge Reservation - the poorest US County - in South Dakota for this novel. 

Author: C.M. Wendelboe

Copyright: March 1, 2011 (Berkley) 310 pgs

Series: 1st in Manny Tanno Investigations

Sensuality: N/A

Mystery Sub-genre: Western Police Procedural

Main Character:  Lakota FBI Special Agent Manny Tanno

Setting: Modern day, Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review

Have you ever had a boss that enjoys making your life difficult?  Manny has such a boss.  He gets all the investigations on any reservation because he is Lakota.  All Manny wants is to continue teaching at Quantico.  His boss has really pushed the envelope this time by sending him back to his home reservation to investigate a brutal murder only two weeks before classes start up.  Big shot land developer Jason Red Cloud was found with a priceless Native war club artifact in his skull on the site of his newest building project. 

Manny is much older now and returning to his home reservation was not what he wanted.  His brother had been involved with the militant activist American Indian Movement and was even convicted of killing a man, but is out now and seems to have changed his ways.  Manny must confront his bitterness about his older brother.  He must contend with the incompetant snot-nosed lietenant he worked with in his early days on the tribal force who is now the Chief and is bent on making him look bad to everybody including his FBI boss.

It doesn't take but a matter of hours before he is attacked with a hammer, which is only the beginning of the several attempts on his life as he investigates the developer's murder.  One thing is very clear, Jason Red Cloud was broke and he didn't have the money that was invested to build the Red Cloud Resort the tribe was counting on.  That makes for several suspects - but his brother appears to be the best fit for the murder.

Manny is a fresh character struggling with having stopped smoking, trying to loose weight, and not been in a relationship for a good while - on top of facing his demons over his turbulant  youth on the dirt poor reservation.  I liked Manny for his self-effacing attitude mostly.  Manny gets a young tribal cop assigned to him, Willie Looks Twice.  Willie is a good counterpoint for Manny.  I look forward to the next book because of Willie as much as for Manny.   The writing style flowed easily and is highly enjoyable with touches of dry humor.

There are many real life details added, even the radio station KILI 90.1 on the reservation.  The plot itself had enough turns and secrets to be dug up to keep interest high.  I suspected the killer fairly early on but the story was such a journey that I was never sure.  The emotional landmines for Manny add depth to the investigation.  The capture of the killer and the wrap up were convincing and exciting.

If you enjoy Native American mysteries, this debut novel promises a great new series to follow.

I am including a movie clip of Thunderheart that featured an FBI agent investigating a murder on Pine Ridge reservation.  It was actually filmed on the reservation.

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Unknown said...

I enjoyed your comments that showed you dissected both the plot line and the character interactions. Good job!

A.F. Heart said...

Thanks Curt,
I try. I am glad you felt it was a good review.

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