The Handless Maiden
A Lakota Mystery #1
Dorothy Black Crow
Lucky Bat Books, October 2014
Crime novels take many forms; historical, thriller, futuristic, realistic, and range from cozy nearly non-violent to the darkest hard-boiled tradition. Rarely does one find a novel combining the best elements of mystical spirituality, vicious racism and intelligent amateur detection. Here, in this multi-level novel, readers will have not only a disturbing journey into native peoples belief system, but a real experience of the modern realities of life on a South Dakota Lakota Indian reservation.
The scene of the novel is Pine Ridge Reservation and the time is 1977. It is worth noting that the cover subtitles the novel A Lakota Mystery. That is significant in that the author’s young protagonists, Alex Turning Hawk and his wife Tate are both Oglala Lakota and they are careful to respect the traditions while facing rampant racism and racing to find the murderer of a prominent AIM fighter, the maiden of the title.
Behind this author’s maiden are centuries-old traditions of pain, suffering and redemption. The common thread is the traditional strength of the damaged girl/woman and her struggles to regain her hands and thus her ability to care for herself and her family. In this modern tale, two representatives of society, native peoples, follow separate paths to help restore the maiden back to whole. Author Dorothy Black Crow has produced an intense, moving, illuminating story of the reality that was Pine Ridge during that turbulent time, a story that explains much but leaves much to the faith and imagination of the reader. A thoughtful, caring and enthralling experience.
night night, sleep tight
William Morrow Paperbacks, February 2016
Hallie Ephron has the reputation of infusing her novels with the glamour of the Golden Age of Hollywood. But this novel reads more like a cancelled TV soap opera, despite the liberal sprinkling of names, from Marilyn to Ava and Frank. It’s too bad, because there is a gem of a mystery in the story, which is ultimately lost in a mushy finale.
The action takes place in 1985 in Beverly Hills. Deidre Unger drives from her San Diego home to her screenwriter father’s domicile, at his behest, to assist him in preparing the house for sale, only to find him floating face down in the swimming pool. Initially an accident is suspected, but then the police detective determines that it was murder. Flashback to 1963, when Deidre’s girlhood friend confessed to stabbing to death her movie star mother’s lover. The rest of the book dwells on the possibility that the two murders are related.
To give credit, the plot is crafty, but the execution is cumbersome. Some suspense is built up but is dissipated by an unjustified conclusion. For readers who like this sort of thing, it could well be enjoyable. But this reader would have preferred a more traditional crime story without the gushiness of soap.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2015.