Virgil Wounded Horse is an enforcer on the Rosebud reservation, the home of the Lakota in South Dakota. Due to some fucked up laws, felonies are subject to federal prosecution, and the feds refuse to prosecute many serious crimes on the reservation, leaving murders, rapes, you name it, uninvestigated. The residents turn to Virgil. For some extra cash, he’ll give the perpetrator a beat down, oftentimes a very violent one. Vigilante justice is more reliable than the so-called justice of white people. The plot kicks off when a tribal council member asks Virgil, for a $5k payday, to get involved and help stop a local guy named Rick Crow (who bullied Virgil in school) from bringing black tar heroin onto the reservation. It becomes personal when the heroin affects Virgil’s family.
This was just as good as people said it would be, although it wasn’t quite what I was expecting! I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, to be honest, but it wasn’t the straightforward prose, the underlying sweetness of the main character (despite his capability for serious violence), or the subplot about revitalizing indigenous cuisine. And yet, this is a dark crime novel, at times very violent and dealing with serious subjects like murder, rape, pedophilia, suicide, and drug use. I really like how the sweetness and love between the characters was able to coexist with the bleaker aspects of the plot. That mix of tone and theme really appeals to me.
I also thought the author, especially for a first novel, did a great job integrating life on the reservation and issues facing Indians today with the twisty nature of the crime plot. This is not an *issue* book, but just by living in the shoes of Virgil and his friends and family, you come to somewhat of an understanding of what it’s like to be native in the contemporary USA (and in the past!). But the focus is on Virgil’s character arc, and the mystery of the heroin, and what’s going on under the surface of tribal politics.
I really liked this, and will definitely be in for future books from this author.
Read Harder Challenge 2021: Read a genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author.
CBR BINGO: Fauna (buffalo!) (still no BINGO)