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Friday, October 4, 2013

Death on the Greasy Grass: A Spirit Road Mystery By C.M. Wendelboe

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Cynthia Chow

Check out details on how to enter to win a copy of this book at the end of the review.

An Aloha shirt-wearing tourist cheering for Colonel Custer at a reenactment of the Battle Of Little Big Horn may not seem to be an unusual set up for a mystery, but considering that the tourist is Manny Tanno, an FBI agent and member of the Lakota tribe, this does set the unique tone for this very resonant yet entirely humorous third mystery featuring the Native American federal investigator. His large partner, Willie with Horn, would rather have vacationed at Yosemite or actually anywhere else Manny insisted on visiting than the battle site at Crow Agency where the Lakota were once forbidden from entering.

Unfortunately, it's not Custer but a reenactor who falls when gunshots are fired and by the merit of their actually being present, Willie and Manny are taken off their vacations to coordinate with the tribal police to investigate whether the death is a simple accident or murder. When it's discovered that Harlan White Bird was a purveyor of priceless Native American artifacts–some real and others fake–murder looks to be much more probable, especially when they learn of the disappearance of the journal of Levi Star Dancer, a Crow warrior who recorded his life from the shattering events of 1876 until his death in 1887. Considering the pride of tribe members, the explosive secrets hidden within the journal murder, and not an incompetent accident becomes a definite probability.

With the reluctant cooperation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs tribal policeman, Matthew ‘Stumper” LaPierre, Manny and Willie investigate the many resentments and offenses taken against the victim. The arson death of one of their suspects leads them to a congressional candidate as well as Chenoa Star Dancer, a former model for Montana’s State Tourism calendar and who embodies the character of a femme fatale if ever there was one.

Image source: Penguin Books

Manny Tanno is delightfully practical and realistic about his capabilities. He's diabetic, struggles with his cravings for cigarettes and has a fiancée making wedding plans while Manny himself has barely managed to accept that he will soon have to purchase an engagement ring! Reluctant-to-commit does not come close to defining Manny's state of mind. The horrific shooting of someone close to Manny forces him to reevaluate his life as he realizes that he was not made to function alone and realizes how much he needs others to bounce idea off of and share concerns and occasional visions.

Just as interesting as the murder, is the lore and background the author provides readers in a way so entertaining that I found the journals of Levi Star Dancer as compelling as the present narration. Levi never forgot the betrayal of Eagle Bull; anger and unwillingness to forgive colored Levi’s entire life. The secrets his journals reveal could destroy the legacies of two tribes and more than one has enough will to protect their lineage’s pride and honor. The Native American tribes were warring amongst themselves before the whites ever came and their resentment and anger have very long memories. The historical information proves to be invaluable and fascinating and always as engaging as the main mystery of the novel, making this an enjoyable read that sneaks in a thoroughly riveting education.

To enter to win a copy of Death on the Greasy Grass: A Spirit Road Mystery, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Grass”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 15, 2013. U.S. residents only.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

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