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Book Author: David Heska Wanbli Weiden

WINTER COUNTS by David Heska Wanbli Weiden: Book Review

Virgil Wounded Horse isn’t sure how to describe himself, and that’s understandable.  A member of the Lakota Nation in South Dakota, he’s lived a difficult life including multiple family deaths, job insecurity, and alcoholism.  But now he’s pretty much pulled himself together and is working at a hard-to-define job.  He’s not a private investigator, certainly not a member of the tribal police on the Rosebud Indian Reservation where he lives, so he’s become “an enforcer.”

The Lakota Way is to show mercy; it’s one of the seven Lakota values.  But for Virgil, who has had to deal with so much trauma and unhappiness, when he gets the chance for some payback he takes it.  Counting coup, or going up to an enemy and touching him with a stick and escaping unharmed, isn’t Virgil’s way.  He wants to make up for all the hurt he’s endured, and now tribe members are hiring him to get some justice when the authorities can’t or won’t get involved.

Under the law, the tribal police can’t prosecute a felony; that is up to the federal authorities.  But the feds usually ignore “lesser crimes” like child or domestic abuse, arson, rape, and theft, so the Lakotas have turned to Virgil to get revenge or justice, depending on the way one looks at it.

Virgil is approached by Ben Short Bear, a member of the tribe’s council who is planning to run for mayor of the reservation.  He tells Virgil that heroin is appearing on the rez, and he wants it stopped before it affects more kids.  He offers Virgil five thousand dollars to go to Denver to find Rick Crow, an old enemy of Virgil’s, who Ben says is responsible for bringing the drug up from Mexico.  Virgil is reluctant to take the job, but when he discovers his nephew Nathan unconscious from a drug overdose, he decides to accept the job offer.

Complicating Virgil’s relationship with Ben is the return of Virgil’s former lover, Marie.  The daughter of Ben and his wife, Marie grew up in relative luxury on the reservation, and her parents never accepted her relationship with Virgil.  She tells Virgil that she knows where Rick Crow lives in Denver and insists on going with him.

Winter Counts is a beautifully written story.  Besides the mystery, this novel is a history lesson into the shameful treatment of American Indians by state and federal governments.

David Heska Wanbli Weiden is an enrolled citizen of the Siscangu Lakota Nation, an attorney, and a professor at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.  Winter Crow is the first novel in what appears to be a series with Virgil Wounded Horse as its protagonist; I look forward with great anticipation to the second one.

You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.