by Terell Byrd
At the end of this post is a chance to win copies of both books!
I am a great fan of the work of Tony Hillerman. I reread his books but I have been looking for other writers in the same sort of genre: Western America and Native American mysteries.
I have found two brand new writers who have first novels out that fit in the general category.
The first book, Death Along the Spirit Road, is a murder mystery set in the Sioux Nation. It is western and features a main character who is Lakota, who is torn between the old ways and new.
The second book, Devil’s Kitchen, is a police procedural that takes place in the Southwest. The main character has a connection to Native American culture – there is some interesting information about his Yaqui heritage and the history of the area. There are some interesting parallels drawn between ancient European practices, Asian spiritual traditions, the old ways of Yaqui and Cherokee, as well as modern Mexican culture.
Very different settings, very different characters and relationships but both entertaining and informative. Enjoy!
Death Along The Spirit Road by C. M. Wendelboe
You can never go home again. At least that is what people say and FBI Agent Manny Tanno does not want to try to go home. He started with Ogalala Sioux Tribal Police, got his chance at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and now works as an Academy Instructor. Still, his boss insists on sending him out on any dispute on a reservation that the FBI has to investigate. This time the case is the homicide of Jason Red Cloud at the Pine Ridge Reservation where Tanno grew up.
Jason Red Cloud was nationally famous as a developer. He was called the “Trump of the West” and the FBI wanted the best Agent on the case – Tanno had a record of always solving the field assignments he was given. He has two weeks before classes start to find a killer.
Tanno must deal with hostility toward police in general, the FBI in particular. There are also old personal scores to deal with. The current head of the area tribal police, Lieutenant “Lumpy” Looks Twice, was once a rival in everything from wrestling to love. A brother Tanno hasn’t talked to in twenty-five years. Perhaps, worst of all, is the inner turmoil of dealing with the return of memories and the nightmares about the dead who do not rest – not allowed by circumstances to follow the Spirit Road to the South – left behind to plague the living.
It’s a fascinating look at a man trying to change the habits of a lifetime in midlife. He has given up smoking recently, is dieting and running for exercise again for his health. He also has to work through his views on tradition and what it means to be Lakota in the current day and to be a “city” Indian working for the FBI at the same time. He is kalo to his brother – a bond closer even than kinship, a commitment once made to give all for another. Honor is also deeply ingrained in the Lakota way and if his brother has committed a crime he must see justice done. Will Tanno die from repeated attempts on his life or will he survive and return to his other life in Virginia and leave his heritage behind forever?
A novel with great depth, this story is a journey to another world within our own. A place of great poverty in the material things but a richness of culture and spirit that come across in the pages of this volume. There is some great sadness before the end of the book but the final scene has surprises and great hope for the future of Pine Ridge and Manny Tanno.
This is a remarkable first novel. I highly recommend it!
Devil’s Kitchen by Clark Lohr
Devil’s Kitchen is Lohr’s first novel. The main character is Manny Aguilar, a homicide detective for the Sheriff’s Office of Pima County Arizona. The city/town of Tucson is the largest in the county. Tucson, like Fresno, still has many of the characteristics of a town along with the problems of the larger cities in the Southwest.
The story starts with the discovery of a human head at the garbage dump – the second in a little over a year. Shocking enough for a swarm of reporters, common enough for the victim to soon be forgotten. Manny can’t forget it and, in trying to find the identity of the homicide victim, gets caught up in a chain of events dragging him into a whirlpool of corruption in state politics and pulling him down into the dangers of crossing a Mexican drug cartel.
There are a lot of stories set in the Southwest. This one is set apart by the history that is integral to the story. It has not been that long since Geronimo made this area his home and Manny’s grandmother was a Yaqui who followed the traditional ways of magic. The dark side of Tucson, the disappearance of water in the western United States, the conversion of grasslands into desert and the hunger of developers to eat up all available land with housing projects are portrayed as well as the draw of the beautiful hills in the near distance and the extravagant, glorious colors of the sunsets.
Although the storyline is serious, there are some marvelous light moments. Grayboy, the cat, is the source of some wonderful commentary on people. There is the camaraderie and fun of old friends who went to school together, as well as the terror of mob violence and vicious drug smugglers. There are wonderful, unique individuals who fill Manny’s life; redhaired Reina, Manny’s smart girlfriend with a sharp sixth sense; Bill Hamilton, an artist friend from Manny’s wild youth; and Johnny Oaks, a Cherokee former police officer who worked with juveniles and now searches for runaways.
Grab a copy of the novel – the story is set in the fall and it is a perfect warm read to fill the longer nights at this time of the year!
To enter to win a copy of Death Along the Spirit Road, simply email KRL at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Spirit”; to enter to win a copy of Devil’s Kitchen email with subject line “Kitchen” or comment on this article. U.S. residents only please. A winner will be chosen September 10, 2011. You can enter for both books or just one.
If you love mysteries, why not check out Left Coast Crime:
Mystery Conference in Sacramento, March 29-April 1, 2012.Registration through 12/31/2011 is only $210 (it goes up to $225 after that). Registration information can be found at the conventionwebsite, or by sending an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.