03 April 2007

Drowning Man in Wyoming's High Plains

I admit it. Sitting in the lap of luxury on the fourth floor deck looking at the waters of the Gulf of Mexico half a mile away, I wonder what I'm doing here. Thanks to everyone who made this possible. A break from routine and a chance to read a book with few distractions. The clouds are building up along the coast this morning. That's the distraction.

Oh, I did read a book, The Drowning Man by Margaret Coel. (It was a gift from my sister-in-law.) Ironies abond: reading about the Wind River Reservation while overlooking a mangrove swamp on Florida's west coast; the idea of a drowning man in the high dry plains of northern Wyoming; thinking about the material poverty of the Shoshone and Arapaho people while luxuriating in a posh resort community...

This is the twelfth mystery Coel has set in the Wind River reservation and the twelfth time she's written about Father John O'Malley, attorney Vicky Holden, and people who populate the fictional version of the "res." I have read many of them.

This one is good. The story is well told and it was complex enough to hold my attention in spite of the tropical distractions of beach and surf, pelicans and ospreys, ginkos and alligators.

The central part of the story is about the theft of ancient rock art (the Drowning Man of the title), but the back stories and the side stories are intriguing too. And then there's the attempt by the religious hierarchy to "hide" an old, ailing pedophile priest in the little mission on the "res," where he won't be noticed. Of course that works no better than the scheme to steal and sell ancient art. Having Coel tell the stories does work.

I like Coel's landscape descriptions (they remind me of Hillerman), her dialogues, and her story telling. I'm not as fond of some of her plot devices, but in this book they don't get in the way very much.

I'm leaving the book on the shelf here in Naples, where they need more books. I hope it gets read again. If you're familiar with Coel's other books and liked them, this one is for you too. If you're not familiar with her books, this one would be a good place to begin: you won't have to catch up on much and if you like this book it will be easy to go read others.

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