14 February 2008

Old mystery, new novel

I just finished Margaret Coel's latest mystery, The Girl with Braided Hair. (Thanks, Mary.)

I really like this one. Then you'll ask, "Why?" And I'll have to figure out why.

The characters are either better creations now or I've gotten used to them.

The plot is better put together than many of Coel's earlier books. But the liklihood of either a lawyer or a priest devoting much time to identifying a murder victim who's been dead for 30 years, seems really, really tiny.

(Coel could get around my incredulity if her characters, like Hillerman's, were tribal police officers or investigators.)

The relationships still don't work for me. An Arapaho lawyer (Vicky Holden), her Lakota legal partner and lover (Adam Lone Eagle), and a reservation Jesuit priest (Father John) make a lousy triangle.

Father John's connections with the people at the mission and the kids on his baseball team seem realistic. But, the Father John-Vicky Holden tension doesn't. The priest staves off the temptations of the woman in the same way he, as a recovering alcoholic, staves off the temptations of Irish whiskey. I guess I'd expect more prayers from the priest. And maybe more confessions to his priestly colleague at the mission or to his superior.

And Vicky Holden seems not to think much about the temptation of the man who is the priest and is really, really ambivalent about her romance/conjugal relationship with tall, handsome, logical, and successful Adam Lone Eagle. (If her ambivalence is connected to her attraction to the priest, she's more messed up than she otherwise appears.)

The backstory is set on the Wind River Reservation in the 1970s when the American Indian Movement was fighting and campaigning for civil rights. After the Trail of Broken Treaties protest that occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Washington, DC and the Wounded Knee takeover, AIM leaders and members were being pursued by the FBI and local law enforcement. According to Coel, many people associated with AIM moved to remote western reservations to avoid arrrest. The late 1970s were, according to Coel, a difficult time for many people on the Wind River reservation, both those who sympathized with and supported AIM, those who were opposed to the outside agitators, and those who just wanted to be left in peace. That was the context for a murder and coverup that became the plot of The Girl with Braided Hair.

Now, I look forward to other reactions to this book. Maybe Jana will have time to read this one and let us know what she thinks of Coel's new book.

But, please, write and tell a little bit of the world what you think.

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