Friday, September 11, 2009

The Silent Spirit - Margaret Coel

The Silent Spirit
A Wind River Mystery
Margaret Coel
Berkley Prime Crime


In the 1920s, many Arapaho and Shoshone Indians took part in filming westerns. Movies were still fairly new, but the directors already wanted ‘realism’ that couldn’t be had by using white actors in dark makeup. Tim McCoy, a movie star and friend to the Indians helped them get work and did his best to interpret between the Hollywood people and the Indians. For many Indians, who were not allowed to leave the reservation without permission of a government agent, working on these films was the only way to feed and house their families. One participant was Charlie Wallowingbull. He went to the set with dreams beyond simply providing for his family. He hoped for a career.

Once the filming was done, the Indians returned to their homes. But Charlie was never seen again. Some of his friends claimed that he’d run off to Hollywood, or to Mexico. But those who knew him knew that he’d never desert his young family. Three generations later, Kiki Wallowingbull is obsessed with what happened to Charlie. Having spent half his twenty-five years in various jails and detention facilities, striking out on his own to California to find some answers about his great-grandfather seems reasonable; even noble.

Andrew, Kiki’s grandfather, is worried. He knows that Kiki is young and worries that no good will come of trying to pry answers from the white man’s world. He speaks to Father John O’Malley, who is back on the rez after a stint in Rome. Father John admits that he gave Kiki a lift when he saw him hitchhiking many days earlier. Since then, no one has heard from him. A little searching points Father John to an area known for drug deals. Thinking that Kiki is using again, Father John investigates, only to find Kiki’s body.

Readers unfamiliar with this series (THE DROWNING MAN, THE GIRL WITH BRAIDED HAIR, BLOOD MEMORY) will have no problems jumping in here. The author writes with great feeling and knowledge about the Indian people and their way of life. Life on the rez seems, in many ways, like life in a small town: the kids all want to get out, and everyone knows everything about everyone. The descriptive passages are so evocative that it’s easy to ‘feel’ the cold and the sun glinting off the snow.

The story shifts from present day to the 1920s during filming, giving the reader a real look at how things have – and have not – changed. The insular worlds of the people from Hollywood and the insular world of the Indian people bump against each other with results that are both predictable and moving. The author excels at finding ways to make each new novel in the long-standing series unique. While never a light read, any new novel from Ms. Coel is worth every word.

Rating: 8
September 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22976-7 (hardcover)


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