Book Reviews: The Handless Maiden by Dorothy Black Crow and night night, sleep tight by Hallie Ephron

The Handless MaidenThe Handless Maiden
A Lakota Mystery #1
Dorothy Black Crow
Lucky Bat Books, October 2014
ISBN: 978-1-939051-88-2
Trade Paperback

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.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2015.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.


night night, sleep tightnight night, sleep tight
Hallie Ephron
William Morrow Paperbacks, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-211764-9
Trade Paperback

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.

Book Review: Strange Country by Deborah Coates

Strange CountryStrange Country
Deborah Coates
Tor, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-7653-2902-8

I wish I’d read the book that came before this one. It would’ve clarified some of the many references to previous goings on. That said, this one is self-explanatory enough that I never got lost. I just had to take some things on faith.

In a nutshell, the grim reaper (Death) wants South Dakota rancher Hallie Michaels to take his place. She’s already died once and is a great candidate for the job. Troubled by the ghosts all around her, Hallie just wants to be let alone and to live her second-chance life, preferably with her love, Deputy Sheriff Boyd Davies. Oh, yes, and she has a “supernatural being” that appears and disappears at will, which talks to her and gives hints and clues. The supernatural takes on the guise of a dog

Then, on a wintery December night, a woman named Prue Stalking Horse calls in to dispatch to report a prowler. Davies finds no trace of anyone, but as he’s leaving, Prue is shot and killed by a long distance sniper. It isn’t long before more people die although the links between them, let alone a motive, remains elusive. Davies is plagued by unfortunate accidents at his house, as well, and has in his possession some mysterious stones that may either be the cause or the reason for everything, if only anyone could put all the clues together.

The mystery will be tied-up at the end, although you can bet there’ll be more stories with Hallie, Boyd, and their friends. And I’ll be glad of it. Ms. Coates writes eloquently of the South Dakota setting. Cold winter scenes will make the reader seek out a blanket to wrap up in. The never-ending farm work that needs done is so ordinary and real it seems exotic within the confines of a story that includes ghosts, Death, magic, and a supernatural being called “Maker.”

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Death Along the Spirit Road by C. M. Wendelboe

Death Along the Spirit Road
C. M. Wendelboe
Berkley Prime Crime, March 2011
ISBN 978-0-425-24002-1
Trade Paperback

FBI agent Manny Tanno has been called to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to solve the murder of Jason Red Cloud, a Lakota Sioux land developer. The investigation puts him right back where he began his career in law enforcement as a tribal officer. One of his fellow officers is now in charge, and the competition between them has only intensified over the years as Manny’s stellar reputation has grown. During this investigation, it’s hard to tell if Lt. Lumpy Looks Twice is trying to help or if he’s out to spoil Manny’s success. Manny will need to consider Lakota history as well as sift through old rivalries to solve this murder. Worse, he’s apt to lose his cushy FBI teaching job if he can’t bring the case to a swift conclusion.

I enjoyed this story, more for the well-described setting and characters than for the mystery, which I figured out pretty fast. The writing is excellent and carries the story along at a good pace. I liked the connection of 1890s to 1970s  (AIM) history of the Lakota tribe that carries us forward to the present day. Manny’s preoccupation with his weight and smoking sometimes bugged me, but not enough to become an issue.

Reviewed by C.K. Crigger, November 2011.