01 January 2014

Reading about the past in the present

Sometimes I can't get enough time to read. Other times I can't find enough energy to read. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I found both the time and energy. Now, I'm trying to find time and energy to write.

I started with a trip to the library and finding a new book by Margaret Coel on the shelf. Many of her books have been interesting and entertaining. Some have been too close to frustrated romance novels. I took a chance and checked out Killing Custer.

A crazy old historical reenactor was channeling "General" Custer and traveling around the west marching in parades, acting in reenactments, and giving speeches in character. When he shows up in Lander, Wyoming for a parade, the local Natives are not pleased. Some of the young men, also riding in the parade plan to insult the Custer character with a "dare ride." Part way through the parade, two lines of Native American riders ride rapidly outside of the Custer riders, circle the group, and ride off ahead of the reenactors. The trouble was that the old crazy guy chanelling Custer was dead after the maneuver.

As might be expected the leaders of the dare ride are blamed for the murder and the local police and the FBI begin looking for them. One of the suspects turns to Father John O'Malley for help and refuge. Father John, in turn puts him in touch with local attorney Vicky Holden.

The set up is almost irresistable. The story is well told. I read it quickly and with excitement. It was a dramatic contrast to the effort I had to put in slogging through The Sirens of Titan. This is one of Coel's better books. Some central Wyoming color, interesting people, perplexing mystery. I liked the book and I liked reading it.

Before I'd even finished Killing Custer, Nancy went to the library and brought back a new mystery by Dana Stabenow, Bad Blood. Stabenow is another writer whose books I've moslty liked. It didn't take much for me to pick it up and get engrossed in the story as soon as I'd finished Killing Custer.

I don't want to pretend this story has any classical aspirations, but Bad Blood is a Romeo-Juliet or West Side Story retelling. It's closer to High School Musical or Shakespeare in Love than to the Shakespeare original. Stabenow's story does have a very bloody ending, though.

Two clans in villages on opposite sides of a small river. One village is prosperous and growing. The other is poor and disappearing. The two clans are rivals and embittered neighbors. There are killings that seem to be the result of feuding. There are young lovers, from opposite sides of the river, trying to escape.

Alaska Trooper Jim Chopin and his lover, the influential Kate Shugak are on the job to investigate the murders, prevent further feuding, and find the young lovers.

What they don't know is that someone is stalking Kate Shugak, seeking revenge for a killing in the distant past.

This story is even more smoothly told than Coel's story. It's easy to read and to enjoy.

SPOILER ALERT: However, when the main character and her faithful wolf/dog in 19 of Stabenow's book catch bullets in the final bloody scene, it's shocking. Almost as shocking was Stabenow's response to an interviewer's question of whether she'd killed off her long time heroine. The author said she'd be crazy to that, but that the last scene would guarantee big sales of the next book. Sales sagging, Dana?

Have you read either of these? Have you read something else that you reacted to? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought.

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