03 April 2007

The Shadow Dancer

Back in the summer of '05, I made a solo trip to Yellowstone. One of my goals was to hike up Mt. Washburn, the highest mountain in the park. No climbing, but the hike is just over 3 miles and the elevation rise is about 1,400 feet. It was a celebration of my 60th birthday. It was great fun.

Since I was going to be in Wyoming near the Wind River Reservation, I picked up another of Margaret Coel's mysteries for the trip. The Shadow Dancer was the 2002 addition to Coel's series of murder mysteries set on the Wind River reservation. Jana Eaton says that many of the characters are based on people who live there. The Jesuit mission is fictional as is Father John O'Malley, who, like many characters in murder mysteries, is a better detective than the pros. It's a wonder he finds time to say mass every morning.

(Pictured at left is the St. Stephen’s Mission, located on the Wind River Reservation near Riverton, Wyoming. The mission, established by Jesuit missionaries in 1884, serves Catholics from the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes. The Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus now manages St. Stephen’s mission. The inspiration for Coel's mission served by Father John O'Malley.)

It's also a wonder how, in a small, isolated community noted (as Coel repeatedly mentions) for its fast and effective “moccasin telegraph,” Father John's friendship with Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden hasn't scandalized the place (even though Coel assures us that in spite of middle-age hormonal yearnings, it's all innocent).

Scene set and main characters introduced. When a revivalist cult arises on the reservation and two prominent men are killed, Father John and attorney Holden are dragged into the story from different directions. The story is well told. It is entertaining summer reading.

I read it in West Yellowstone, Montana while trying to cope with unusual late afternoon heat. I spent my mornings getting accustomed to the altitude by hiking through Yellowstone's gorgeous landscape, marveling at the exotic thermals and the trumpeter swans, elk, and bald eagles. By 2:00 in the afternoon, it was time for me to seek shade for several hours. I am thankful for SPF 50 sun block, but it doesn't keep me cool.

The Shadow Dancer is a good mystery novel, like the ones I read earlier. Astrid Wiesner-Hagedorn has liked a couple of the earlier books. Jana Eaton, who grew up in that part of Wyoming, has enjoyed several of them too. I have no clue about its appeal to you. Try it and tell us what you think.

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