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DreadfulWater Shows Up, by Hartley Goodweather, pseudonym for Thomas King.

January 11, 2014

DreadfulWater Shows Up, by Hartley Goodweather, pseudonym for Thomas King.

A well-crafted mystery by a favorite Native American scholar and novelist.

 When I first learned that Thomas King had written a mystery novel, I had to read it.  I have devoured everything else he has written; his varied novels, his history of the Indigenous people of Canada and the USA, and his fine lecture series of storytelling and truth, and I was curious about what he would do with the mystery genre.   I found that he is as good at writing mysteries as he is at everything else.

 Indian Thumps Dreadfulwater is a retired cop who is trying to make a life for himself as a photographer in a small town near an Indian reservation.  When he gets called to photograph the corpus of a dead man found in the luxury resort and casino the tribe is finishing, he gets pulled into the search for the culprit.  Although the sheriff tries to keep him out of the case, Dreadfulwater is curious, especially since the crime is about to pinned on a teenager, the son of the woman whom he loves.  As more people die, the tension mounts, and contradictory clues accumulate.  Dreadfulwater has to face his own uncomfortable memories.  I remained unable to solve the mystery before the characters did, yet in the end the solution of the mystery made scene.  To some extent, King establishes order in the end, but he acknowledges that trouble is still on the loose.

 The setting for the story is the imaginary town of Chinook, which could be in any western state in the USA.  As often with King, most of the characters are Indians, not labeled as members of any particular tribe.  King himself is a Cherokee who grew up in California and his allegiance is not tribal but to all Native Americans.  Most but not all his characters are Indians, and through them King conveys the humor and cynicism of their prospective.  White characters are also important and well-described.  A few are rabid racists, but most interact smoothly with the Indian characters.  Indians have their own perspectives and their own concerns, but they are not closed out of the community.  Racial tension is present but not the major theme of the book.

 While any mystery fan can enjoy this book, King manages to make the genre his own with his caustic humor and dry wit.  He has created a host of remarkable characters; Dreadfulwater himself, the smooth computer executives who appear at the scene of the crime, the traditional medicine man who is a genius at computers, the sheriff and his incompetent deputy, and many more.  As always, King does a fine job of portraying strong women.  The woman who heads the tribe and the woman who runs the computer business are culturally different, but both are forceful and shrewd.  The mother/son relationship in the book is particularly well-told.

Strongly recommended to all who enjoy mysteries, especially those who seek excellent ones written by people of color who introduce new perspectives and contexts.  King has written a second DreadfulWater mystery,  which I hope to find.  For my reviews of other books by King, see the index to my blog.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 12, 2014 1:48 am

    I adored this too! And definitely recommend it to all mystery lovers. I got the 2nd one from Better World Books during their Black Friday sale; I’m saving it until I move, because my new library system isn’t as good as my current one.

    Mardi Oakley Medawar has written some mysteries too: most are historical on the cosy side, and solidly good but not brilliant (a la King), and I read them when I need a comfort read (speaking of which, I read the first Malla Nunn mystery ages ago, and while I think she’s an incredible writer, I don’t consider her a comfort read! lol Too much violence). She also wrote a contemporary one, though, Murder on the Red Cliff Rez, that was just fabulous. I hope she revisits it and turns it into a series: the main character/sleuth is a particularly neat woman.

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